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N. Korea vows more attacks

Kim Young-jin
The Korea Times
Nov 25, 2010

North Korea threatened further provocation against South Korea, Thursday, raising the question of its next move as Washington and Seoul prepare military drills in the wake of Pyongyang’s deadly artillery attack earlier this week.

“The (North) Korean Peoples’ Army will deal without hesitation a second and third strong physical retaliatory blow,” a military delegation said through the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed Tuesday when Pyongyang fired hundreds of shells onto the border island of Yeonpyeong. The South returned fire.

Pyongyang, which claims Seoul instigated the clash by firing toward it during a drill, also blamed the United States as it does not respect the maritime border drawn up by United Nations Command (UNC) at the end of the Korean War. The 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The United States cannot avoid blame because “it was none other than the U.S. which sparked off the conflict in the above-stated waters,” the statement said.

The threat raised speculation on what Pyongyang will do next as the international community slams the North for the attack.

The North maintained its tough stance Thursday, rejecting a proposal by the U.S.-led UNC to hold general-level military talks on the artillery attack.

Meanwhile, the joint South Korea-U.S. drills are scheduled for Sunday through Wednesday in the western waters with the 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS George Washington participating.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of more attacks and provocations from the North given its recent belligerent behavior,” Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a web posting. “North Korea may use the exercises as a pretext for another attack.”

Experts here, however, downplayed the possibility of a physical response to the drills, citing the proximity of U.S. forces and the carrier, which carries 75 warplanes and a crew of some 6,000.

“They will likely harshly criticize the drills and increase their military posture as part of their fundamental military tactics,” Park Young-ho, an expert with the government affiliated Korea Institute of National Unification (KINU), said, referring to the North’s tendency to pull back after brandishing its capabilities.

Park and other analysts, however, agree that more provocative behavior could come in the next weeks and months as the North continues to consolidate power around North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s youngest son and heir Kim Jong-un.

“The North saw that the South is limited in how it can respond to its provocations,” Choi Jin-wook of KINU said, adding that this leaves the door open for a variety of provocative actions.

Such moves, he said, could include similar artillery bombardments and asymmetrical attacks such as the one that sunk South Korean frigate, Cheonan, in March, which Pyongyang denies.

It could also include the unveiling of increased nuclear or ballistic missile capabilities. During a military parade last month, Pyongyang rolled out ballistic missiles with the capability of reaching Guam, watchers said.

For now, the North is watching to see how Washington will react to its request to return to a 2007 agreement between the two countries, said Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University.

Last week, the North reportedly told a group of visiting U.S. experts that it was willing to effectively dismantle one of its nuclear weapons programs if Washington agreed to reiterate its commitment to a joint communique in which it pledged to hold “no hostile intent” towards the North.

Pyongyang has long coveted normalized relations with Washington and a peace treaty to end the Korean War.

“The North will likely continue a two-track approach to have dialogue with the United States and South Korea and also take a hawkish, hostile stance toward Seoul,” Yoo said.

In recent months it has also signaled its willingness to come back to multilateral talks on denuclearization. It recently unveiled to U.S. experts a uranium enrichment plant capable of being upgraded to produce nuclear weapons, seen as a move to up the ante and force the resumption of talks.

Also bearing watching will be how China, the North’s primary benefactor, responds.

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