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Inside out: How North Korea sees the world

From Mike Chinoy, CNN Senior Asia Correspondent


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(CNN) -- While the United States and its allies see North Korea as a threat, from the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, it is the regime in Pyonyang that feels endangered.

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Il surveys the world, it cannot be a comforting sight.

While North Korea's totalitarian political system remains a throwback to Stalin's Soviet Union and the China of Mao Zedong, in most of the world, communism disappeared a long time ago.

And it is Kim Jong Il's fear of meeting a similar fate, many analysts say, that underpins North Korea's abrasive stance and policies.

Facing 37,000 U.S. troops in neighboring South Korea, a hostile administration in Washington, and an economy that has staggered from one catastrophe to another, Pyongyang feels being pushed against the wall.

But In the past year, Kim Jong Il has taken some dramatic steps to turn things around.

For one, it has borrowed the idea of market-style reforms from the Chinese by creating a capitalist-style "special administrative region" of Sinuijiu on the Chinese border.

The reclusive regime also sought to mend fences with neighbor South Korea by allowing for the resumption of talks following months of silence, and the building of railway links between the two countries.

Recently, it also held out the olive branch to another long-time foe, Japan, and admitted the abduction of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and early 80s, a fact which Pyongyang had previously denied.

Although the startling revelation caused an uproar in Japan, it nonetheless helped pave the way for normalized relations between the two governments.

Bargaining chips

But the centerpiece of North Korean strategy has long been to end decades of tension with Washington -- by using its missile and nuclear program as bargaining chips.

North Korea's totalitarian system is a throwback to Stalinism
North Korea's totalitarian system is a throwback to Stalinism

In 1994, the North agreed to freeze an earlier nuclear program. In return, the United States promised to provide fuel oil and build two safer nuclear reactors.

But the oil deliveries were invariably delayed, and work on the reactor site is years behind schedule.

And the broader thaw in North Korea-U.S. ties that Pyongyang expected never materialized -- leading North Korea to conclude that it was Washington who was violating agreements and understandings, not Pyongyang.

It was against this background that North began its new, secret nuclear program in the late 1990s.

Now the indications are that Pyongyang wants to use this new program, like the old one, to reach a deal with Washington -- signaling a willingness to negotiate an end to all nuclear activity, but only if the U.S. agrees to pursue normalized relations.

"If the U.S. will drop its hostile policy," the official North Korean News Agency wrote, North Korea "will have dialogue with the U.S. to clear the U.S. of its worries over its security."

So far, however, as U.S. officials have toured the region, the talking has been about pressuring North Korea, not engaging in dialogue.

And here too, the North Koreans have made their position clear.

"If the U.S. persists in its moves to pressurize and stifle the DPRK, the latter will have no option but to take tougher counter-action," the North Korean Central News Agency warned.

Talks or confrontation -- from Pyongyang's perspective, the ball is now firmly in the American court.



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