South Korea, U.S. Warn against North Korea's Provocations
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States warned North Korea on July 21 that the socialist regime will face "serious consequences" if it makes further provocations following its deadly sinking of a South Korean warship. The two allies also urged the North to abandon its nuclear programs and show "genuine will for denuclearization with concrete actions."
The warning came in a joint statement issued after unprecedented high-level security talks that brought together the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries. The two countries held the security talks in Seoul to underscore the firmness of their alliance as a warning to North Korea against provocative behavior.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates joined their South Korean counterparts -- Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young -- in the "two plus two" talks seen as one of the biggest shows of the nearly six decades of alliance forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War.
"The ministers urged North Korea to take responsibility for the attack" on the South Korean warship Cheonan, the statement said. "They also called upon North Korea to refrain from further attacks or hostilities against the ROK and underscored that there would be serious consequences for any such irresponsible behavior." ROK is short for South Korea's formal name, Republic of Korea.
The ship sinking, which left 46 sailors dead, has been the dominant security issue in the region for months, completely overshadowing international efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear programs.
Pyongyang has denied any role in the ship attack. But after the U.N. Security Council issued a mild rebuke over the sinking, the North has been making a series of conciliatory moves, including expressing its willingness to return to the stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
South Korea, however, views Pyongyang's outreach as a ploy to duck responsibility for the sinking, and has urged the North to show sincere willingness to give up its nuclear programs if it wants to reopen the stalled nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.
"The ministers urged North Korea to abandon all its nuclear programs and its pursuit of nuclear weapons in a complete and verifiable manner, and to demonstrate its genuine will for denuclearization with concrete actions," the joint statement said.
In a news conference later in the day, Clinton announced a set of new sanctions against North Korea to punish Pyongyang for the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March.
"Today, I'm announcing a series of measures to increase our ability to prevent North Korea's proliferation, to halt their illicit activities that helped fund their weapons programs and to discourage further provocative actions," Clinton told the news conference.
Clinton said Washington's "new country-specific sanctions" will target the North's "sale and procurement of arms and related material and the procurement of luxury goods and other illicit activities."
"Let me stress that these measures are not directed at the people of North Korea who have suffered too long due to the misguided and malign priorities of their government," she said. "They are directed at the destabilizing illicit and provocative policies pursued by that government."
In addition to new sanctions, Clinton said that the U.S. will expand ones already in place under U.N. resolutions to "identify, pressure and put out of business North Korean entities involved in proliferation and other illicit activities overseas."
She said all of these measures will target the North's "leadership" and "their assets," recalling that similar financial sanctions by Washington in 2005 hit the impoverished regime hard. "We did get some action from the North Koreans as a result of these steps that were taken at that time," Clinton said.
Ahead of the formal talks, Clinton and Gates made a highly symbolic visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border with North Korea, together with their South Korean counterparts. It is the first time the foreign and defense chiefs of the U.S. have visited the DMZ together.
"We are here today not just to show our appreciation for the vital work U.S., ROK and other forces do in maintaining the armistice, but also to send a strong signal to the North, to the region, and to the world that our commitment to South Korea's security is steadfast," Gates said at the DMZ.
Clinton urged the North to stop isolating itself from the international community and choose a better future for its 24 million impoverished population. She also stressed that the U.S. security commitment to the South will remain strong until the North changes.
"There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North," Clinton said. "But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and the government of the Republic of Korea. We provide a stalwart defense to our allies and partners."
One day earlier, Gates and Seoul's defense minister Kim agreed on a series of large-scale joint military exercises. The drills are "designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop," Gates said.
The first of the joint naval and air exercises dubbed "Invincible Spirit" will start on July 25 in the East Sea. The four-day drill will involve the 97,000-ton U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington, some 20 ships and more than 200 aircraft, including four F-22 Raptors that will fly on training missions in and around Korea for the first time.
About 8,000 military personnel from the two nations' army, air force, navy and marines have been called to the maneuver.
"These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that we are committed to together enhancing our combined defense capabilities," defense chiefs of the two countries said in a joint statement after their talks in Seoul.
"This is the first in a series of ROK-U.S. combined naval exercises that will occur in both the East Sea and the Yellow Sea," the statement said, without specifying dates or other details.
The American-led U.N. Command in South Korea notified North Korea of the drill earlier on July 20, officials at the South Korean defense ministry said.
At their talks, Kim and Gates reaffirmed the "commitment to maintain an enduring U.S. military presence and the current U.S. troop level" in South Korea, the statement said.
China, which has yet to blame the North for the ship sinking, has publicly expressed its anxiety over any South Korean-U.S. naval drills in the Yellow Sea that might run close to its territory, claiming it will pose a threat to its security.
In an apparent concession to China's objections, South Korean officials said the location for the first joint drill with the U.S. was changed to the East Sea from the Yellow Sea.
North Korea on July 20 denounced the exercises as "very dangerous saber-rattling" that could start a war.
The drills are "aimed at further straining the already deadlocked inter-Korean relations and igniting a nuclear war against the DPRK (North Korea)," the Minju Joson, the cabinet newspaper of North Korea, said in a commentary carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.
It included a reminder that the Yellow Sea is the site of past clashes between the South and North Korean navies, adding, "This foretells the exercises may trigger off an all-out war."
The next day on July 21, the Minju Joson said the U.S. is contemplating staging a joint anti-submarine drill under the pretext of coping with the "intrusion" of DPRK's submarines into the waters of the east and west seas of Korean Peninsula.
"But lurking behind these moves are a design to invade the DPRK to put the whole of Korea under its control and a more important aim to establish military hegemony in Northeast Asia and pressurize and contain other big powers by force of arms in this region," it claimed.
"As Northeast Asia including the Korean Peninsula is of great military and strategic importance, the U.S. considers the peninsula, a gateway to the region, as its vantage point for carrying out its strategy of Asian aggression," the paper said.
It said "If enemies dare provoke a war, the army and people of the DPRK who have bolstered up the war deterrent in every way will wage an all-out struggle and demonstrate the mettle of Songun Korea."