N. Korea Lashes Out over S. Korean-U.S. Joint Military Drills
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In a vehement reaction to the largest-ever South Korea and United States' joint military exercises taking place this week, North Korea has threatened armed retaliation against the "warmongers."
The North spoke out before the joint drills started on July 25 for a four-day run off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. On July 24, the North's powerful National Defense Commission (NDC) warned it will "start a retaliatory sacred war" of its own style "any time necessary" to counter the drills, accusing South Korea and the U.S. of "deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war."
The North's foreign ministry issued a similar threat on the same day, saying Pyongyang is ready for "physical measures" against the drills and new financial sanctions announced last week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although North Korea has threatened armed retaliation with hyperbolic rhetoric to the "Invincible Spirit" exercises in the East Sea, there has been no sign of unusual military activity by the North until the final day of the joint military drills, which ended on July 28.
"The army and people of the DPRK (North Korea) will legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises to be staged by the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces," the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing the statement issued by the North's powerful NDC, chaired by Kim Jong-il.
North Korea continued its threats against the drills using its media. The Workers' Party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said July 26 that South Korea and the U.S. "will have to pay a dear price if they persist in the criminal act" of holding the drills.
On July 26, Kim Yong-chun, the North's armed forces minister, warned that Pyongyang will "mobilize the tremendous military potential, including its nuclear deterrence, for self-defense and thus wipe out the aggressors" if the South Korean-U.S. joint drills continue.
This week's exercises were the first in a series of joint drills by South Korea and the U.S. over the coming months. The two allies began the high-powered drills on July 25 in the East Sea as a resolute signal to the North that its provocations will not be tolerated. Officials of the two allies said the maneuver is a defensive one meant to deter the communist regime.
The location of this week's maneuvers was changed from the Yellow Sea to the East Sea, apparently due to strong Chinese protest over the drills taking place close to its own waters.
The large-scale drills involved dozens of ships, including the 97,000-ton USS George Washington plus some 200 aircraft with thousands of personnel from both sides. They started in waters 200 kilometers or so south of the maritime boundary with North Korea.
The drills were launched to send a signal that South Korea and the U.S. won't tolerate the North's provocations after a multinational investigation accused Pyongyang of firing a torpedo in March to sink the Cheonan corvette, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea denies any role in the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea. The U.N. Security Council earlier this month condemned the attack, but did not directly blame the North.
Despite the defense nature of the military exercises, the North reacted sensitively to the matter. The North's NDC statement said, "It is a legitimate and sovereign right to protect the honor and dignity of the DPRK for them to probe the truth about the despicable 'fabrication' and 'charade.'" The statement added that Pyongyang will "take all steps to the last to thoroughly probe the truth behind the case."
The North's Foreign Ministry also said on July 24 that Pyongyang will further strengthen its nuclear deterrence and again mentioned "powerful physical measures" in response to the U.S. military provocations and sanctions. "We will strengthen our nuclear deterrence and take a strong response as the U.S. imposes new sanctions against us," the KCNA quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
In response to Pyongyang's threats, South Korea's military said it has been closely monitoring the North's military moves at border areas, but hasn't detected any abnormal activities. "We are reinforcing surveillance in the Military Demarcation Line and other areas, but there have been no noticeable moves," said an official for the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to the inter-Korean border.
North Korea has proposed to send its own team to South Korea to verify the outcome of the international probe of the Cheonan's sinking blamed on a torpedo fired by a North Korean mini-submarine, which Seoul has rejected.
U.S. Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the 28,500 troops in South Korea, urged on July 27 the North to halt provocative acts, calling the North's attack on the Cheonan a "violation of the armistice agreement." "I call on North Korea to live up to the terms of the armistice and to cease all acts of provocation," Sharp told reporters at a ceremony commemorating the anniversary at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone, which bisects the peninsula.
Pyongyang's threat of nuclear war also came on July 24 as diplomats in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, were preparing for a statement to be issued later in the day to define the nature of the incident.
The North's NDC denounced South Korea and the U.S. for "rendering the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the worst phase under the pretext of the Cheonan case," warning, "The U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces will keenly realize what high price they will have to pay for their reckless military provocation."
The North's statement came just hours after the U.S. dismissed the North's threats to the exercises made by North Korean diplomats in Hanoi. North Korea warned in the Vietnamese capital on July 23 that there would be "physical response" to the planned joint naval exercises, and said it will not apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan.
"There will be a physical response against the steps imposed by the United States militarily," said Ri Tong-il, spokesman for the North Korean delegation here for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
Responding to the North Korean diplomat, the U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, "It would be unwise. We certainly don't think it would be fruitful for North Korea to increase tensions in the region at this point.
The North's NDC statement added that the joint exercises will only help enhance its nuclear arsenal and delay the process for Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament through six-party talks. "The more desperately the U.S. imperialists brandish their nukes and the more zealously their lackeys follow them, the more rapidly the DPRK's nuclear deterrence will be bolstered up along the orbit of self-defense and the more remote the prospect for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be become," it said.
On July 23, the North's main newspaper warned it would respond with "corpses and graves" to any U.S. attempt to invade its soil. Denying the North's role in the sinking, the Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial that the two allies are "bent on igniting a war." "If the U.S. provokes another war, it will only be corpses and graves that it will be presented with," the paper said in an editorial carried by the official KCNA. It cited a 1950-53 Korean War battle during which it claims its army destroyed a prestigious U.S. military unit.
Meanwhile, a pro-Pyongyang daily said on July 26 that North Korea will go ahead with a "strong deterrent" based on its self-defensive policy if it determines the U.S. has abandoned its intent to resolve the March sinking of a South Korean warship through dialogue
The warning by the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper published by a group of pro-North Korean residents in Tokyo, comes as South Korea and the U.S. were holding massive maritime drills.
"The military drills that run counter to an atmosphere for dialogue is highly likely to instantly turn around the mood" that appeared to thaw after the U.N. Security Council recently urged talks over the sinking, the paper said in a commentary.
The warning further raises speculation that the North may be considering conducting its third nuclear test after two in 2006 and 2009. The socialist country, believed to have enough plutonium to create at least six atomic bombs, claims it is developing nuclear arms to defend itself against U.S. plots to topple its regime.