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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 252 (March 7, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Again Threatens to Nullify Korean War Truce Agreement

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Citing what it called U.S.-led international moves to punish it for its recent nuclear test, North Korea threatened on March 5 to nullify the 1953 Armistice Accord that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The North also denounced joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises scheduled to start March 11, declaring that if the maneuvers are conducted, it will cut off military phone links across the border with South Korea.

   The North's military issued the menacing statement, angrily protesting the annual military exercises South Korea jointly conducts with the United States and international efforts to slap new sanctions on Pyongyang for its third nuclear test.

   Kim Yong-chol, a hard-line North Korean general suspected of involvement in a series of provocations against the South, read the statement on state TV, saying the North "will completely declare (the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War) invalid."

   North Korea's latest saber-rattling came hours before the United States and China made a joint call for tightened sanctions on the isolated state following its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

   The North's military said if unrestrained by the armistice it could launch a "precise" strike at anytime. It also warned it could mount a strike with atomic weapons to counter any U.S. nuclear threat. Without elaborating, the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) Supreme Command warned of "surgical strikes" meant to unify the divided Korean Peninsula and of an indigenous "precision nuclear striking tool."

   The North's Supreme Command called the joint exercise a "most blatant" provocation, and slammed it as a "vicious" scheme by the U.S. and its allies to push for tougher United Nations sanctions.

   The North said the armistice will be "completely" nullified from March 11, when the South Korean-U.S. exercise goes into full swing in the South.

   North Korea is known for its harsh rhetoric, but the latest announcement appears to be unusually combative. The Korean states are technically at war, with no peace treaty signed at the end of the three-year Korean conflict that started in 1950.

   North Korea's military is ready to strongly counter outside sanctions and other punitive measures against the regime, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   North Korea issues harsh rhetoric when South Korea conducts joint military exercises with the U.S., denouncing them as a rehearsal for an invasion of the communist nation. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly said the drills are purely defensive.

   "Unlike last year the current joint military exercises will be participated in by super-large nuclear-powered carrier task force carrying at least 100 nuclear warheads, B-52H strategic bombers and other means of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces for making ground, sea and air nuclear strikes and its allied forces including South Korea, U.K. and Australia."

   "From this point of view, the exercises cannot be construed otherwise than the most dangerous nuclear war maneuvers targeted against the DPRK and the most undisguised military provocation to be made by a group of all hues of hostile forces," it said.

   "In view of the prevailing situation, the Supreme Command of the KPA, which is responsible for the national defense and security of the country and the destiny of the nation, sent a meaningful warning message to the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces through the KPA Panmunjom mission on Feb. 23," it said.

   In the past the North threatened to scrap the armistice at times of high tension. Pyongyang's recent nuclear test and rocket launches, and the subsequent call for U.N. punishment, have increased already high animosity between the North and Washington and Seoul.

   The North's KPA statement called U.S.-South Korean military drills a "dangerous nuclear war targeted at us."

   "We aim to launch surgical strikes at any time and at any target without being bounded by the armistice accord and advance our long-cherished wish for national unification," the statement said.

   To counter possible North Korean provocations, South Korea and the United States have tightened their joint defense posture.

   The joint U.S.-South Korean military drills will draw 10,000 South Korean and 3,500 U.S. forces. An earlier round of drills between the allies began earlier March. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.

   Meanwhile, Pyongyang threatened on March 6 to turn Seoul and Washington into "seas of fire" through a "precise nuclear strike."

   Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party, printed an article on its front page entitled "The U.S. and warlike puppet groups should be aware of their destructive ending."

   "If the U.S. imperialists wield their weapons, we will turn not only Seoul but also Washington into seas of fire with our own measures for a precise nuclear strike," Jong Hyon-il, a brigadier general, was quoted in the article.

   The article also said that today's young North Koreans are imbued with heroic spirits and can defend their homeland.

   "They have sworn to raise the national flag (of North Korea) on top of Mount Halla on Jeju Island," it said, referring to the highest mountain in South Korea.

   It was the first time Pyongyang had warned of using a nuclear weapon on Seoul, according to the Seoul's Unification Ministry.

   The United States and others worry that North Korea's third nuclear test takes it a big step closer toward its goal of having nuclear-armed missiles that can reach America, and condemn its nuclear and missile efforts as threats to regional security and are a drain on the resources that could go to North Korea's largely destitute people.

   North Korea says its nuclear program is a response to U.S. hostility that dates back to the Korean War.

   In Seoul, military sources said North Korea has started submarine drills and stepped up preparations for nationwide military exercises, which may be timed to coincide with annual joint drills by South Korea and the United States set to start next week.

   Another military source said, however, the North will start large-scale drills across the nation from next week when South Korean and the U.S. troops start the two-week war game.

   The large-scale firearm drill will be held near the east coastal city of Wonsan, while nationwide military maneuvers will be carried out, the source said.

   According to multiple military sources, the North has recently declared a "no-fly zone" in the west and the east of the Korean Peninsula during the March 11-20 Key Resolve training period, fueling speculation that it may fire off missiles.

   In the past, Pyongyang had declared no-fly zones before it fired short-range missiles or conducted maritime firing drills.

   South Korea warned that it would retaliate against any provocation from North Korea.

   "If North Korea carries out provocations that threaten the lives and safety of South Koreans, our military will strongly and sternly punish the provocations' starting point, its supporting forces and command," Army General Kim Yong-hyun told reporters.

   In Washington, the United States warned North Korea against provocations, using a standard linguistic formula to shrug off Pyongyang's threat to scrap the armistice.

   "The DPRK will achieve nothing by threats or provocations which will only further isolate North Korea," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, calling Pyongyang's latest threats not new or helpful.

   In Doha, Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on March 5 urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to "take responsible action for peace" and to get back to the negotiating table over Pyongyang's nuclear program. "Rather than threaten to abrogate, the world would be better served if they (North Korea) would engage in legitimate dialogue and legitimate negotiations," Kerry told reporters as he wrapped up a nine-nation trip.

   Kim should "take responsible action for peace and for responsible activity within the region," Kerry said, just hours after Pyongyang threatened to scrap the 1953 armistice. "Our preference is not to brandish threats to each other, it is to get to the table and to negotiate a peaceful resolution to that crisis," he stressed.

   But the top U.S. diplomat, who is finishing his first overseas tour since taking over the helm of the U.S. State Department, warned that "we will continue to do as necessary to defend our nation and region together."

   North Korea's neighbors and the West condemn the North's efforts to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting America as a serious threat to Northeast Asia's delicate security and a drain on the precious resources that could go to North Korea's largely destitute people.

   Faced with Washington's "ceaseless nuclear blackmail and sanctions racket," the North Korean state media have claimed that Pyongyang made "the strategic resolution to react to nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons."

   Many outsiders dismiss North Korea's comments as a rationalization, and U.S. officials say North Korea orchestrated a systematic, often secret drive to build bombs, even while making nuclear disarmament pledges to Washington and others in return for aid and other concessions.

   Analysts also said North Korea frequently blackmails and tries to intimidate Washington and others for money and supplies, to agitate for a peace treaty to end the still technically ongoing Korean War, to deter possible attacks, to generate scapegoats meant to obscure government failures and to allow the ruling Kim family to demonstrate power and stability to the world and to their citizens.

   Pyongyang's state media recently wrote of the "tragic consequences" of countries that "abandoned halfway their nuclear programs" because of U.S. pressure, adding that North Korea "was very far-sighted" when it decided to continue building nuclear arms.

   Even if the deadlocked nuclear disarmament negotiations resume, analysts see no easy solution to stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.