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Strategic Diplomacy
South Korea and Uganda Get Cozy

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is in Uganda this weekend as part of a diplomatic blitz aimed at, among other objectives, blunting North Korean arms sales. Park’s leader-to-leader engagement with one of North Korea’s biggest clients represents a new approach from South Korea, which has long sought to limit the North’s revenue sources and curtail its nuclear activities through UN resolutions and East Asian summits.

Now, South Korea is taking the fight against North Korea’s nuclear program directly to the rogue regime’s business partners. Park visited Iran earlier this month to discourage nuclear cooperation between the Islamic Republic and the Hermit Kingdom. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Iran and Uganda are among a small group of “resilient” customers of North Korea’s military goods and services, according to a recent study by Andrea Berger, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.

Ms. Berger said such countries were the most likely to defy international sanctions on North Korea because of deep political and military ties to Pyongyang and often their inability to access major Western arms markets. […]

South Korea’s aim, as well as that of the U.S., is to starve Pyongyang of cash for its nuclear program and create an economic crisis that forces it to negotiate over its atomic weapons. So far, there are no signs the strategy is working. At a recent ruling party congress, North Korea reiterated its commitment to building up its nuclear force.

South Korea and Uganda have been moving closer since Park hosted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for talks in Seoul, her first state visit from a foreign leader. South Korea also has a robust missionary presence in Uganda, which has contributed to growing personal and cultural ties between the two nations. And Uganda is now the third-largest destination for South Korean development aid in sub-Saharan Africa.

Uganda and South Korea have good reasons to partner with each other. Park sees the opportunity to limit one of the largest sources of revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Museveni is courting aid dollars and investment from South Korean corporations like Samsung, which recently set up a factory in neighboring Kenya. Plus, South Korea might just be able to convince international bodies to relax the arms restrictions that led Uganda to partner with the Norks in the first place.

Museveni, for his part, is more likely to play the two Koreas off of each other than to side directly with one or the other. A February report to the UN Security Council revealed that he has continued to hire North Korean military advisers to train the Ugandan police force.

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