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NKorea raises stakes in nuke dispute with missile launches

White House says NKorea missile tests 'not constructive'
The White House on Friday criticized North Korea's latest missile tests as "not constructive" and urged Pyongyang to focus instead on dismantling its nuclear facilities. "The United States believes that North Korea should refrain from testing missiles," Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. "This kind of activity is not constructive." He added: "North Korea should focus on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs, and nuclear proliferation activities and to complete the agreed disablement." "In terms of the short-range missile test, I understand they are not a violation of the missile moratorium" for long-range missiles that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il declared in 1999, McCormack told reporters. "That said, we would urge to them to -- rather than engaging in launching short-range missiles -- to direct their energies towards more productive channels, focus on producing a declaration, focus on meeting their commitments," he said. North Korea last year agreed to disable its main atomic plants at Yongbyon and declare all its nuclear programs and materials by the end of 2007. The US-supervised disablement has been going ahead but Washington and Pyongyang are at odds over the declaration.

The North says it submitted the declaration last November. The United States says it has not fully accounted for a suspected uranium enrichment program and for allegations of nuclear proliferation to Syria. "We're beyond the deadline the parties have set for themselves," McCormack said when asked about prospects for a new deadline. "We'd like to see this move forward as quickly as possible, but you've also heard the secretary (of state Condoleezza Rice) say she hasn't circled any dates on the calendar in that regard." He added there was still life left in the diplomatic process.

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) March 28, 2008
North Korea raised the stakes Friday in its nuclear disputes with South Korea and the United States, test-firing several missiles and warning it may slow down work to disable atomic plants.

The North also warned against any "provocative actions" along its disputed western sea border with South Korea, the scene of bloody naval clashes in 1999 and 2002.

The test-launches and warnings came one day after the communist state expelled South Korean officials from a joint industrial estate, in protest at the new conservative Seoul government's tougher policy towards Pyongyang.

Presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan described the missile launches as part of a regular military exercise. "I believe North Korea will not sour relations with South Korea," he said.

But one analyst said it was "highly possible" the situation would worsen.

"We may see naval clashes in the Yellow Sea," said Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies, adding that the North was trying to sway the outcome of the April 9 parliamentary election.

"South Korea's reckless military provocation in the West (Yellow) Sea raises tensions," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said late Friday, without specifying whether any particular incident had occurred.

"It cannot help but bring out military conflicts if South Korea remains firm in its will to keep the NLL."

The North refuses to recognise the Northern Limit Line, drawn by United Nations forces at the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency said earlier that three or four missiles were fired into the Yellow Sea. It described them as Russian-designed Styx ship-to-ship missiles with a range of 46 kilometres (29 miles).

There were several similar launches last summer.

After a decade-long "sunshine" rapprochement policy under liberal presidents, South Korea's new administration is linking long-term economic aid to nuclear disarmament.

It says it will also raise Pyongyang's human rights record. On Thursday in Geneva, Seoul voted for a UN Human Rights Council resolution expressing deep concern at that record.

The White House criticised the missile tests as "not constructive" and urged Pyongyang to focus instead on dismantling its nuclear facilities.

A six-nation nuclear disarmament deal is currently deadlocked because of disputes between Washington and Pyongyang.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said US delays in resolving the dispute could slow down work to disable the North's plutonium-producing atomic plants.

The spokesman, quoted by KCNA, said the US was hindering progress in six-nation talks by raising "unjust demands."

North Korea last year agreed to disable its main atomic plants at Yongbyon and declare all its nuclear programmes and materials by the end of 2007.

The US-supervised disablement has been going ahead and the North says it submitted the declaration last November. But the US says it has not fully accounted for a suspected uranium enrichment programme and for allegations of nuclear proliferation to Syria.

"If the US keeps insisting that what does not exist exists, and delays the settlement of the nuclear issue, it would have a serious impact on the disablement of nuclear facilities," the North's spokesman said.

"We make it clear we have no uranium enrichment programme, we have not extended any nuclear help to any country. We have never dreamed of such things. There will never, ever be such things."

The North's decision Thursday to expel the 11 South Korean officials from the Kaesong complex, just north of the heavily fortified border, was in retaliation for comments by a South Korean minister.

Unification Minister Kim Ha-Joong said last week it would be difficult to expand the Seoul-funded complex unless the nuclear problem is resolved.

Kaesong is the most important joint project and most visible symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas, who remain technically on a wartime footing. Almost 24,000 North Korean workers earning about 70 dollars a month produce light industrial goods there for 69 South Korean firms.

earlier related report
Tensions likely to rise further on Korean peninsula: analysts
Tensions are likely to rise on the Korean peninsula as North Korea continues to stonewall a six-nation deal to disable its nuclear weapons programme, analysts said Saturday.

Smarting at Seoul's tougher policy and continuing US sanctions against the communist state, Pyongyang took a raft of actions in the past week that analysts said could culminate in a clash in the Yellow Sea.

"We'll probably see a new naval clash off the western coast," Professor Yoo Ho-Yeol of the department of North Korean Studies at Korea University told AFP.

"Unless both sides show restraint, there would be no guarantee that such a clash would remain offshore and would not spread to the ground," he said.

The North's Navy Command issued a fresh warning on Friday against the South's warships intruding into its "territorial waters" in the Yellow Sea, which are claimed by both Koreas.

Bloody clashes involving warships of the two rivals in 1999 and 2002 left tens of casualties on both sides.

The North's Navy took issue with a statement made on Wednesday to parliament by South Korea's new joint chief of staff, Kim Tae-Young, who said that the South would defend the disputed sea border at any cost.

The North's Navy warning came hours after Pyongyang test-fired short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea on Friday for the first time in nine months and after it expelled South Korean officials from Kaesong industrial park, the most important inter-Korean project and the most visible symbol of reconciliation.

The expulsion was in retaliation against remarks by South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-Joong last week that it would be difficult to expand the Seoul-funded complex unless the six-nation nuclear deal moves forward.

The moves showed that the North believed Seoul's "sunshine" policy of engagement with Pyongyang -- exercised during ten years of liberal rule in the South which ended with the recent election of conservative President Lee Myung-Bak -- was over, analysts said.

"Pyongyang is now applying an all-court pressing tactic. After watching for a while, it reached a conclusion that it cannot get along with the new South Korean government," said former Unification Minister Jeong Se-yun, now an analyst and head of the nonprofit Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation.

Pyongyang further fuelled the tensions on Friday, when a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said US delays in resolving a dispute over the extent of its nuclear weapons programme could delay work to disable the North's plutonium-producing atomic plants under the landmark six-nation deal.

The spokesman, quoted by the North's Korean Central News Agency, said the US was hindering progress in the six-nation talks by raising "unjust demands" and pressing Pyongyang to declare an uranium enrichment programme that the North denies exists.

Jeong, the analyst, said Pyongyang was raising the stakes in order to prevent South Korea and the United States from opting for a tougher stance toward the North when Lee meets President George W. Bush at an April 18-19 summit in Washington.

The nuclear issue is expected to be high on their agenda, but Professor Koh Yu-Hwan of Dongguk University said no breakthrough was likely to emerge in the foreseeable future.

"The North says it cannot declare what it says does not exist in the first place," Koh said.

"Either the US intelligence on this issue might have been wrong or the North might have reached a final decision to deny its existence," he said. "I don't see any way out of this stalemate."

North Korea last year agreed to disable its main atomic plants at Yongbyon and declare all its nuclear programmes and materials by the end of 2007 under the six-nation deal.

The US-supervised disablement has been going ahead and the North says it submitted the declaration last November. But the US says it has not fully accounted for the suspected uranium enrichment programme and for allegations of nuclear proliferation to Syria.

earlier related report
North Korea steps up rhetoric on South, renews threat to cut ties
North Korea stepped up the rhetoric on South Korea on Sunday, repeating a threat to suspend all inter-Korean dialogue in protest over remarks by the south's top general.

The official Korean Central News Agency lashed out at remarks by South Korea's new Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) head Kim Tae-Young that it would hit the north's nuclear sites should Pyongyang attack it with atomic weapons.

The agency said Kim's remarks represented the new policy of President Lee Myung-Bak's government that was launched in Seoul last month.

"Our revolutionary army will counter any slightest move of the South's 'preemptive attack' on our nuclear bases with a more rapid and more powerful preemptive attack," it said in a commentary, echoing an earlier warning.

"It should be kept in mind that once our preemptive attack is launched, everything will turn into ashes, not just a sea of flames."

In a first official reaction to the latest in a series of moves by the North which have heightened tensions, the South's defence ministry said it had no plans to respond immediately to Pyongyang.

"The ministry will decide -- within two or three days -- on whether it should send a reply or not after scrutinising North Koreans' real intentions through consultations with the unification ministry and other agencies," it said in a press statement.

It followed a report that President Lee Myung-Bak presided over a low-key security meeting on Sunday.

The North's Korean People's Army (KPA) Saturday called on JCS chairman Kim to apologise for his remarks and warned of a further slide in ties.

"If the South side does not retract the outbursts calling for 'pre-emptive attack' nor clarify its stand to apologise for them, the KPA will interpret this as the stand of the South side authorities to suspend all inter-Korean dialogues and contacts," it said.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been rising recently.

The North on Thursday expelled Seoul officials from a jointly-run plant in Keasong, the most important inter-Korean project and the most visible symbol of reconciliation, just north of the Korean border.

The North also test-launched short range missiles off its west coast Friday.

The test-firing coincided with Pyongyang warning that it could slow down work to disable its atomic plants and the North Korean navy warning against South Korean warships intruding into its "territorial waters" in the Yellow Sea, which are claimed by both nations.

Bloody clashes involving warships of the two rivals in 1999 and 2002 left dozens of casualties on both sides.

At a parliament hearing Wednesday, JCS chairman Kim, answering a hypothetical question of how to react if the North developed small nuclear weapons and attacked the South with them, said the South should find the North's nuclear sites and strike them with precision weapons.

The North's military on Saturday denounced Kim's remarks as "the gravest challenge ever" to inter-Korean ties and "a reckless provocation little short of a war declaration" against Pyongyang.

General Kim's office on Thursday issued a statement, saying his remarks contained no reference to "pre-emptive" strikes.

Yonhap news agency said President Lee held a meeting with his security aides on Sunday to discuss recent "provocations" by the North.

The presidential spokesman's office refused to comment on the report.

earlier related report
NKorean military hardliners seen behind nuclear deal deadlock
Hardliners in North Korea's powerful military may be resisting a US-led deal for the hardline communist state to disband its nuclear weapons program, according to US experts.

The military, the experts said, will be the most impacted by any surrender of atomic arms by North Korea, which on Friday fired a volley of missiles with a warning it might stop disabling its nuclear arsenal as part of an agreed multilateral deal.

Keith Luse, a senior US Senate official, suggested in a report on his return from a recent trip to Pyongyang that the North Korean military could possibly unravel the aid-for-disarmament deal which the administration of Kim Jong-il reached with the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

In his report to the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Luse asked, "Is the North Korean military resisting MFA (ministry of foreign affairs) efforts to substantively engage with the US and the other five countries?"

He then replied, "Chairman Kim's best efforts to orchestrate a balance among competing interests within the North, may be a 'stretch too far' for North Korean military hardliners.

"Declaring and discarding the jewel of their arsenal will be difficult for those viewing it as the ultimate deterrent," Luse said in the report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Luse, a senior professional staff of ranking Republican Senator Richard Lugar, was in North Korea last month to determine, among other questions, why Pyongyang was reluctant to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs and weapons as well as its alleged proliferation activities.

North Korea was to have submitted the declaration by the end of December under the deal, which so far had led to the shutdown and near disabling of a key plutonium-producing reactor in Yongbyon.

Pyongyang submitted a list last November but the United States says it has not accounted fully for a suspected uranium enrichment program and allegations of nuclear proliferation to Syria.

"Luse's observations are right on," said an American expert on North Korea, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It is generally thought that Kim Jong-il is on the side of the angels so to speak, the engagers, but he can't ramp things on the throats of the military as the military rice bowl is the most endangered by this action, by getting rid of the nuclear weapons," the expert said.

The assessments by Luse and the Korea expert preceded those of Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy to the six-party talks on the nuclear deal, who this week referred to some "people" in North Korea who were against ending the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"I think it is fair to say that there are people in North Korea who really are not with the program here, really rather continue to be producing this plutonium for whatever reason," he said.

"North Korea is a country that has a very vertically oriented governing structure to be sure ... but at the same time it is place for politics," Hill said.

Kim's administration had informed Washington on a number of occasions that it wanted to get the nuclear deal done before President George W. Bush left office in January 2009.

But after failing to give the full declaration of its nuclear arsenal, the reclusive state raised the stakes Friday by test-firing several missiles and warning it may slow down disabling its atomic facilities.

The White House criticized the missile tests as "not constructive" and urged Pyongyang to focus instead on dismantling its nuclear facilities.

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NKorea raises stakes in nuke dispute with missile launches
Seoul (AFP) March 28, 2008
North Korea raised the stakes Friday in its nuclear disputes with South Korea and the United States, test-firing several missiles and warning it may slow down work to disable atomic plants.







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