Saturday, July 24, 2010
North Korea Threatens "Nuclear Response" to Military Exercises
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North Korea Vows 'Nuclear' Response to US Drills
(July 24) -- North Korea threatened today to use its "nuclear deterrent" in a "retaliatory sacred war" against military drills by the U.S. and South Korea, set to kick off this weekend in retaliation for Pyongyang's alleged role in the suspicious sinking of a South Korean warship.
The military exercises are slated to begin Sunday in the Sea of Japan, involving 20 ships – including the USS George Washington, one of the world's largest aircraft carriers – plus 100 aircraft and about 8,000 American and South Korean troops. Lasting through Wednesday, the drills demonstrate tight military cooperation between Seoul and Washington, who blame North Korea for torpedoing the Cheonan warship in March, killing 46 sailors. The U.S. has also announced new sanctions against the North.
For Pyongyang, the drills are an "unpardonable provocation," its state media reported today. The communist North denies any role in the Cheonan's demise, and has threatened all-out war if it's punished.
"The army and people of the [North] will legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises," state media said today, reading a statement from North Korea's National Defense Commission, headed by leader Kim Jong-Il.
Pyongyang's latest threat is its most strongly-worded – referring for the first time to the reclusive state's nuclear capabilities – after days of similar comments from its delegate to Asia's biggest security forum, held in Vietnam this past week. At the Hanoi meeting, North Korea abandoned the use of its official media as a mouthpiece, and had its spokesman lambast the U.S. and South Korea while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the very same room.
Clinton took the floor as well, calling North Korea an "isolated and belligerent" nation that's embarked on a "campaign of provocative, dangerous behavior." She said the stability of all of Asia depends on whether North Korea changes its behavior.
"It is distressing when North Korea continues its threats and causes so much anxiety among its neighbors and the larger region," Clinton said Friday. "But we will demonstrate once again with our military exercises ... that the United States stands in firm support of the defense of South Korea, and we will continue to do so."
Both Clinton's comments and those carried by North Korean state media today were reported by several news outlets.
The U.S.-South Korean drills, announced earlier this week by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are another example of how Washington has raced to Seoul's defense after the Cheonan's sinking. The U.S. also backed Seoul's efforts to bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council, which issued a statement earlier this month condemning the ship's sinking but stopped short of assigning blame.
The weaker statement was due in large part to the influence of China, Pyongyang's only powerful ally, which has not fully accepted an international panel's conclusion that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan. China has also criticized the upcoming U.S.-South Korean military exercises, with a foreign ministry spokesman expressing "deep concern" earlier this week.
China's hesitancy to blame the Cheonan's sinking on a North Korean torpedo is now surprisingly being echoed by some inside South Korea as well, according to a new report by the Los Angeles Times. Even though Clinton has called the evidence against Pyongyang "overwhelming," the paper quotes some South Korean opposition leaders as questioning that. They say it's unlikely the impoverished North Korean regime could have pulled off a torpedo attack, and find it strange that the South Korean president issued his findings on the very day campaigning began in local elections.
The two rival Koreas are technically still on a war footing since their 1950-53 war ended with an armistice but not a peace treaty. But tensions over the Cheonan have brought the peninsula closer than ever to renewed all-out war.
Officers from the American-led U.N. Command, tasked with observing the shaky armistice, met Friday with members of the North Korean military and informed them that the Cheonan incident violated the armistice's rules. They scheduled another such meeting for later this month.
Lauren Frayer is a freelance journalist and former Associated Press correspondent who has reported from Washington, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Iraq and Pakistan.
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Another crisis raises its head for the Obama administration. Standing strong in the face of such threats is the only logical response...
Charles M. Grist