North Korea's agenda

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the international community must respond in the growing crisis over the sinking of a South Korean warship. She said there was ?overwhelming? evidence that North Korea was to blame, and urged Pyongyang to halt its ?policy of belligerence?. But why would North Korea torpedo a South Korean ship and kill dozens of sailors? Matthew Bell is exploring Pyongyang's agenda.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Hillary Clinton visited the South Korean capital, Seoul, today. She called on the world to respond to what she called North Korea's unacceptable provocation. The Secretary of State was referring to an incident in March. International investigators say a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean Navy ship killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies sinking the ship and it's ratcheting up the rhetoric as The World's Matthew Bell reports.

MATTHEW BELL: Speaking in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a veteran of the Korean War today denied that his country had anything to do with the sinking of South Korea's ship, the Cheonan. General Pak Chan Su said the South's president is manufacturing this crisis. General Pak implied that President Lee Myung Bak is a puppet of the United States. North Korea's enemies are clamoring for sanctions, he said, but we will answer with all out war. North Korea is already one of the most isolated and sanctioned countries on earth. So if the investigation's findings are accurate, and North Korea did sink that ship, what were its leaders thinking?

SUNG-YOON LEE: North Korea does such things because by exporting insecurity and by backing down, it can get away with not only murder, but it can actually get away with a lot of economic concessions.

BELL: Sung-Yoon Lee is an international relations expert at Tufts University. He says North Korea is threatening to cut off all ties with South Korea now because it's holding out for a bigger payoff down the road.

LEE: For North Korea to survive and for North Korea to preserve its own regime, facing the constant existential threat of being absorbed by the richer, freer, South Korea, North Korea sees it to be in its best interests to resort to such acts of provocation from time to time, create tension, create crisis, and then say okay, let's go back to negotiating and be rewarded.

BELL: North Korea is going through a political transition right now. Leader Kim Jong Il is thought to be ill and preparing to hand off power to one of his sons, the 20-something Kim Jong Un. Professor Lee says North Korean leaders do not earn legitimacy at the ballot box.

LEE: Their credentials, the source of their legitimacy come from being a so-called great General, military leader. Although the current leader never served a day in the military, so to have a strategic mind, to try to prove oneself as an able General or military leader that is able to engineer a military act like this against South Korea, this would boost up the credentials of this young man, the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un.

BELL: Experts say another thing North Korea would have been trying to do with an attack like the one against the Cheonan is to stir up a political reaction ahead of upcoming elections in South Korea. Stephan Haggard is a Korea expert at the University of California at San Diego. He says the left in South Korea is accusing the right leaning government of Yee Myung Bak of playing politics with the sinking of the Cheonan.

STEPHAN HAGGARD: It's really become quite polarized and those who favored in engagement strategy have obviously been marginalized under the Yee Myung Bak administration. And so I think they want to taint the LMB administration, the Yee Myung Bak administration as partly response for this incident.

BELL: After months of stalled six party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, a question on the minds of many experts right now is whether North Korea is looking for a fight. Mike Chinoy is the author of a book about the nuclear showdown with North Korea called "Meltdown". He says the leadership in Pyongyang is not suicidal. However . . .

MIKE CHINOY: What's worrying now is there aren't any diplomatic channels and in the absence of that the danger of miscalculation or things getting worse certainly increases.

BELL: United Nations is expected to take up the issue of new sanctions against North Korea and all eyes will be on China. It holds a seat on the Security Council. China is also the closest thing North Korea has to a political ally. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Hillary Clinton visited the South Korean capital, Seoul, today. She called on the world to respond to what she called North Korea's unacceptable provocation. The Secretary of State was referring to an incident in March. International investigators say a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean Navy ship killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies sinking the ship and it's ratcheting up the rhetoric as The World's Matthew Bell reports.

MATTHEW BELL: Speaking in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, a veteran of the Korean War today denied that his country had anything to do with the sinking of South Korea's ship, the Cheonan. General Pak Chan Su said the South's president is manufacturing this crisis. General Pak implied that President Lee Myung Bak is a puppet of the United States. North Korea's enemies are clamoring for sanctions, he said, but we will answer with all out war. North Korea is already one of the most isolated and sanctioned countries on earth. So if the investigation's findings are accurate, and North Korea did sink that ship, what were its leaders thinking?

SUNG-YOON LEE: North Korea does such things because by exporting insecurity and by backing down, it can get away with not only murder, but it can actually get away with a lot of economic concessions.

BELL: Sung-Yoon Lee is an international relations expert at Tufts University. He says North Korea is threatening to cut off all ties with South Korea now because it's holding out for a bigger payoff down the road.

LEE: For North Korea to survive and for North Korea to preserve its own regime, facing the constant existential threat of being absorbed by the richer, freer, South Korea, North Korea sees it to be in its best interests to resort to such acts of provocation from time to time, create tension, create crisis, and then say okay, let's go back to negotiating and be rewarded.

BELL: North Korea is going through a political transition right now. Leader Kim Jong Il is thought to be ill and preparing to hand off power to one of his sons, the 20-something Kim Jong Un. Professor Lee says North Korean leaders do not earn legitimacy at the ballot box.

LEE: Their credentials, the source of their legitimacy come from being a so-called great General, military leader. Although the current leader never served a day in the military, so to have a strategic mind, to try to prove oneself as an able General or military leader that is able to engineer a military act like this against South Korea, this would boost up the credentials of this young man, the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un.

BELL: Experts say another thing North Korea would have been trying to do with an attack like the one against the Cheonan is to stir up a political reaction ahead of upcoming elections in South Korea. Stephan Haggard is a Korea expert at the University of California at San Diego. He says the left in South Korea is accusing the right leaning government of Yee Myung Bak of playing politics with the sinking of the Cheonan.

STEPHAN HAGGARD: It's really become quite polarized and those who favored in engagement strategy have obviously been marginalized under the Yee Myung Bak administration. And so I think they want to taint the LMB administration, the Yee Myung Bak administration as partly response for this incident.

BELL: After months of stalled six party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, a question on the minds of many experts right now is whether North Korea is looking for a fight. Mike Chinoy is the author of a book about the nuclear showdown with North Korea called "Meltdown". He says the leadership in Pyongyang is not suicidal. However . . .

MIKE CHINOY: What's worrying now is there aren't any diplomatic channels and in the absence of that the danger of miscalculation or things getting worse certainly increases.

BELL: United Nations is expected to take up the issue of new sanctions against North Korea and all eyes will be on China. It holds a seat on the Security Council. China is also the closest thing North Korea has to a political ally. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.