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South Korea Fears Armed Clash If Ships Stopped Near North Korea

File photo: North Korean export ship.

SKorea sends team to US-led anti-WMD drills
South Korea on Sunday sent a government delegation to observe US-led sea drills in the Gulf aimed at stopping cargo suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, officials said. South Korea is under pressure to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) sea drills following North Korea's October 9 nuclear test. A three-member team, consisting of coast guard and foreign ministry officials, will observe the drills in waters off Bahrain from October 30-31, a Coast Guard spokesman told AFP.

South Korea has been reluctant to participate in the exercises because of fears that it could anger neighboring North Korea. The two Koreas already had a bloody 1950-1953 war. The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution to broaden sanctions, including cargo inspections, against North Korea for the nuclear test. North Korea has since told South Korea not to enforce the sanctions. Pyongyang has also warned that South Korea should not join the drills, as Seoul has been urged to play a greater role in implementing the sanctions following the nuclear test.

Song Min-Soon, South Korea's top presidential security adviser, said last week Seoul was considering ways to expand its roles in PSI while not joining any sea blockades against North Korea. PSI is a US initiative calling for the interdiction of vessels and airliners suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related materials. It would be expanded under UN sanctions imposed on North Korea following its nuclear test. The sanctions provide for the inspection of cargo to and from North Korea.

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Oct 27, 2006
South Korea feared that any attempt to stop and check suspicious ships near North Korea as part of UN sanctions would spark an armed clash, a senior official said Friday. Seoul is being urged by the US to play a greater role in an international initiative to inspect cargos following the North's declared nuclear test, but is fearful of sparking a war with its communist neigbour.

"The possibility of sparking an armed clash would be very high," said Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan, referring to any searches off the Korean Peninsula.

"That's why we don't take part in PSI," he was quoted by Yonhap news agency as telling legislators, referring to the Proliferation Security Initiative introduced in 2003.

PSI is a US initiative calling for the interdiction of vessels and airliners suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related materials.

It would be expanded under UN sanctions imposed on North Korea following its October 9 declared nuclear test. The sanctions resolution provides for the inspection of cargos to and from North Korea.

Yu said consultations were underway among various government agencies to discuss ways to expand South Korea's role in PSI, short of taking part in such searches off Korea. It currently has observer status.

Song Min-Soon, top security adviser to President Roh Moo-Hyun, said South Korea was considering ways to expand its roles in PSI "with a position that we do not take part in sea blockades against North Korea".

The US has denied the ship searches would amount to blockades.

US ambassador Alexander Vershbow said earlier Friday he understood the Seoul government was considering closer involvement in PSI.

"I expect that the ... government, after the healthy democratic debate on the issue that is now underway, will take appropriate steps to signal its resolve that North Korea's behaviour is unacceptable," he said.

Multinational PSI exercises in the past have seen high-speed maritime chases and commandos rappelling onto vessels from helicopters or clambering aboard from fast boats, with inspectors in chemical suits searching suspect cargo.

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Japan Lawmaker Continues Calls For Nuclear Debate
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 28, 2006
The policy chief of the Japanese ruling party renewed his calls for a debate over whether Japan should acquire nuclear weapons capability, in the face of nuclear threat from North Korea. "The main goal is to stop North Korea's outrageous acts," Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, told a press conference in Washington, where he was visiting.

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