May 29, 2009
North Korea has fired yet another short-range missile off its eastern coast today as it faced off against the U.S. and the South in an increasingly tense nuclear stand-off. The U.S. and South Korea raised the military alert levels on the peninsula yesterday as defiant North Korea declared it was ready for war.
The joint command for the 28,500 U.S. troops that support South Korea's 670,000 soldiers raised its alert a notch to signify a serious threat from the North, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. It is the highest threat level since the North's only other nuclear test in October 2006.
Kim Jong-Il's secretive regime warned that it would launch an attack if any of its vessels were intercepted as part of a U.S-led initiative to search ships for nuclear materials. It has also abandoned the 1953 truce with South Korea that ended the Korean conflict and has preserved a fragile peace for decades. And there were ominous signs that the pariah state had restarted efforts to make weapons-grade plutonium.
The moves are part of an increasingly hard line being taken by North Korea since it conducted an underground atomic test earlier this week.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday warned the country over its 'provocative and belligerent' threats. Mrs Clinton also underscored the U.S.'s commitment to defend its allies South Korea and Japan - which are in easy range of North Korean missiles. She said that the intent of U.S. diplomats was to 'try to rein in the North Koreans.'
But with United Nations dithering over new sanctions, the North Korean government warned: 'Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels, including search and seizure, will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty. 'We will immediately respond with a powerful military strike. Those who provoke (North Korea) once will not be able to escape its unimaginable and merciless punishment.'
The statement was in direct response to South Korea joining the Proliferation Security Initiative - an American-led campaign to search ships carrying suspicious cargoes to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.
A spokesman for an organisation calling itself the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said: 'The South Korean puppets were ridiculous to join in (this) racket and... declare a war against compatriots.'
U.S. spy satellites have detected steam coming from the Yongbyon reactor suggesting that North Korea has reactivated its nuclear reprocessing facility. In 2007, it agreed to disable the plant in exchange for aid.
Experts say that the North could harvest enough plutonium there to make at least one nuclear bomb every year. There are also fears that the Communist country is trying to sell nuclear know-how to Syria and other rogue states.
And in a sign of the tensions in the region, Russia - whose far eastern regions border North Korea - yesterday took precautionary security measures amid fears of an escalation to nuclear war.
Britain condemned the latest 'unnecessary and provocative' act of defiance, which 'will only serve to isolate the regime further.'
The crisis began last month when North Korea fired a long-range rocket over Japanese airspace. It responded to international criticism of the launch by walking away from long-running negotiations on its nuclear disarmament.
On Monday, North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima. It has also fired six short-range missiles.
Diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members - plus Japan and South Korea - have been meeting behind closed doors in New York for three days to discuss a new resolution against North Korea.
Washington wants a quick and unified response that will make it clear to Pyongyang that it has to 'pay a price' for its actions. But while the U.S. and Japan favour tough sanctions, Russia and China are more wary about pushing North Korea too far.
The White House accused North Korea of 'sabre-rattling' for attention. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said North Korea was continuing to violate international treaties in the wake of the nuclear detonation and threats to attack South Korea for joining a U.S.-led security program. 'Threats won't get North Korea the attention it craves,' Gibbs told reporters at the White House. 'Their actions are continuing to further deepen their own isolation from the international community and from their rights and obligations that they themselves have agreed to live up to.'
Korea at DEFCON 1?
I see the imminent possibility of a black hole into which all disappears and only chaos reappears.
Key events involving North Korea's nuclear issues.
North Korea could opt for devastating land assault
Fears of military conflict have increased this week, particularly regarding disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea conducted an apparent nuclear test on Monday and then renounced the armistice that has kept relative peace between the Koreas. It has held since the two sides fought to a standstill — with the U.S. and the U.N. backing the South and China and Russia supporting the North — in the 1950-53 Korean War.
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