Gary Samore-NK-Iran

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, April 1 (Yonhap) -- After weeks of bellicose statements, North Korea's next steps remain uncertain as it has come under heavy pressure from Beijing to stop escalating tensions, a former senior White House official said Monday.

"We will see whether Pyongyang listens to what Beijing says or whether they decide to proceed with additional actions," Gary Samore, who served as President Barack Obama's key aide on arms control and nonproliferation, told Yonhap News Agency after a forum hosted by the Brookings Institution. "We're all waiting to see whether Kim Jong-un now goes into the peace offensive mode or continues with provocation."

Samore warned that the North Koreans are putting themselves in a "very dangerous situation" where the future of their relationship with South Korea's Park Geun-hye administration and their ties with China are at stake.

"There's a real risk of an imminent clash if the North Koreans choose to increase tension, but right now they're just making noises," said Samore, who worked at the White House for four years.

In February, he became executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

He pointed out the difficulty of predicting what North Korea will do under the leadership of Kim, reportedly in his late 20s.

The pattern of Kim's late father, Kim Jong-il, was relatively clear -- a rocket launch, a nuclear test, a U.N. Security Council response and a declaration by Pyongyang of its interest in resuming six-way nuclear talks, according to Samore.

"The question is whether Kim Jong-un will follow the pattern that his father established in 2006 and 2009, or whether he will be more provocative, more willing to push for additional actions," he said.

Samore said the U.S. has no clear evidence of suspected nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran.

"In terms of nuclear ties between Iran and North Korea, I'm not aware of any, but it's something that we should be concerned about," he said. "We know there's extensive cooperation in the missile area, and one could imagine that North Korea could provide substantial assistance to Iran in terms of enrichment."

He said there will be no major impact from the soaring tensions in Korea on the so-called P5+1 negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.

The term refers to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France -- plus Germany, in talks with Iran.

They will hold another round of negotiations in the Kazakh city of Almaty later this week.

Samore said the participating nations, especially the U.S. and China, have handled various major issues simultaneously while dealing with the North Korea problem.

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