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(News Focus) N. Korea again resorts to brinkmanship to put pressure on U.S.
By Lee Joon-seung
SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's latest threat to nullify the Korean War armistice agreement is part of a longstanding effort to heighten military tensions and dissuade the United States and international community from pursuing additional sanctions, local observers said Wednesday.

   The threat made by the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army (KPA) late Tuesday said the armistice agreement that halted the three-year conflict in 1953 will be invalid as of March 11. The statement said after that time, North Korea will strike any target it pleases without restrictions.

   The warnings carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency also said all activities of the KPA's delegation at the truce village of Panmunjom will be suspended and the hotline telephone link between North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command will be severed.

Gen. Kim Yong-chol, head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau and member of North Korea's ruling Workers’Party Central Military Commission announces Pyongyang's intent to nullify the armistice agreement. (Yonhap file photo)

The North's latest saber rattling comes as diplomatic sources said overnight that Washington and Beijing had reached a broad understanding on tightening sanctions on Pyongyang for detonating its third nuclear device on Feb. 12 in defiance of warnings issued by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC took action against the North after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and is expected to vote on new sanctions within the week to penalize the North.

   "Pyongyang has been trying to nullify the armistice agreement since the early 1990s and the latest announcement seems to be another attempt to do the same," a senior military source said.

   The official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Pyongyang may be trying again to tell Washington that a permanent peace treaty needs to be signed to end the uncertain truce. Because no peace treaty was signed after the Korean conflict, the North is still technically at war with South Korea and the United States.

   In the past the North demanded a peace treaty to get the U.S. to withdraw its troops from South Korea, but this time it may be trying to divert attention from the near universal condemnation of the nuclear test and its launch of a long-range rocket late last year. The Unha-3 launch is viewed by the outside world as part of the communist country's weapons of mass destruction development program.

   "If the U.S. ignores such overtures, the North will probably detonate another nuclear device and launch a long-range rocket," he said, without offering details.

   An official at Seoul's unification ministry said the new attacks and threats are nothing out of the ordinary.

   "In March 1991 the North opted to boycott the Military Armistice Commission and withdrew its military delegation from Panmunjom and said in 1994 it considered the armistice agreement to be no longer binding," he said.

   The official pointed out that Pyongyang again claimed it will not abide by the armistice in early 2003 and warned it could take tough measures to thwart aggression by the United States and South Korea. The country also said the cease-fire armistice was void in 2006 and 2009, and warned it's military will deal firmly with any provocation.

   However, he said that the North has been upping the ante in recent weeks with Jon Yong-ryong, a North Korean diplomat warning last month in Geneva that if Seoul does not mend its ways and desist from its confrontational stance, it could face "final destruction." The remark was interpreted by some as a sign that Pyongyang could use atomic weapons against the South.

   Others in Seoul's diplomatic community warned that if the UNSC passes a resolution condemning the North again and moves to impose tougher penalties, Pyongyang could decide to lash out with fresh provocations, raising uncertainty in the region. Pyongyang has also shown a tendency to provoke armed confrontation when a new South Korean president takes office. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was sworn in on Feb. 25.

   "Yesterday's KPA's statement bodes ill because the North may decide to escalate tensions," a North Korea watcher said. He speculated that the latest warning may be aimed not only at the U.S. but China as well. Acting as the North's main benefactor, China in the past prevented the United Nations from taking harsh measures, but more recently Beijing has started voicing its discontent with Pyongyang's actions.

   Meanwhile, Yun Duk-min, a lecturer at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said Pyongyang may exercise its brinkmanship tactics once again by escalating tensions in the coming days, then finding a way to ease tensions, such as holding direct talks with the United States.

   "The next one to two months will show what actions the North plans to take this time," the scholar said.