Saturday, July 24, 2010

N.Korea threatens 'physical response' to naval drills

N.Korea threatens 'physical response' to naval drills*

AFP July 24, 2010

HANOI (AFP) - North Korea threatened Friday a "physical response" to US-South Korean naval exercises this weekend after the United States accused Pyongyang of waging a campaign of provocation.

Diplomatic sparks flew as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun attended an Asia-Pacific security forum in Hanoi amid escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"There will be a physical response against the steps imposed by the United States militarily. It is no longer the 19th century... gunboat diplomacy," North Korean delegation spokesman Ri Tong Il told reporters.

The official Korean Central News Agency kept up the pressure on Saturday, saying: "The army and people of the DPRK will legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises to be staged by the US and the South Korean puppet forces."

The naval drills -- involving a US aircraft carrier, destroyers, fighter aircraft and thousands of troops -- were a "grave threat to the Korean peninsula, and also the region of Asia as a whole," the spokesman said.

"It is against the sovereignty of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the security of the DPRK," he said, using North Korea's official name.

The United States and South Korea had hoped the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) would condemn North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, diplomats said, but a statement only expressed "deep concern".

"Here in Asia, an isolated and belligerent North Korea has embarked on a campaign of provocative, dangerous behaviour," Clinton said in prepared remarks to foreign ministers gathered at the region's biggest security dialogue.

"Peaceful resolution of the issues on the Korean peninsula will be possible only if North Korea fundamentally changes its behaviour."

Clinton held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi after the forum and was expected to ask China to do more to rein in its communist ally, State Department officials said.

US officials said the Chinese side told Clinton the tensions on the peninsula had "raised considerable anxiety in Beijing".

They urged a resumption of dialogue with the North but agreed the time "isn't ripe yet", according to a US official travelling with Clinton.

Yang did not comment to reporters after the meeting, but China has repeatedly warned against the exercises and called on all sides to show restraint.

Besides China, the two Koreas and the United States, two other countries involved in stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme -- Japan and Russia -- were also represented at the 27-member ARF meeting.

Clinton said the door remained open to resume dialogue with the North if it went back to disarmament commitments it made in 2005, but added that under the circumstances progress "appears unlikely" in the near term.

She called the naval exercises starting Sunday a demonstration of US resolve to defend its ally South Korea, where it has 28,500 troops stationed.

"We will demonstrate once again that the United States stands in firm support of the defence of South Korea and we will continue to do so," she told reporters.

In Washington later Friday, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said of any "physical" North Korean response to the war games: "It would be unwise."

Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the new US sanctions and military exercises during a trip to South Korea on Wednesday.

Tensions have escalated since the March sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, near the disputed border in the Yellow Sea with the loss of 46 lives.

Gates said there were indications the North would engage in provocations as ailing leader Kim Jong-Il, 68, reportedly prepares to name his youngest son as successor.

Pyongyang denies sinking the warship and has warned of war if it is punished, citing a UN Security Council statement on July 9 that condemned the incident but did not identify a culprit.

In his closing remarks, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem said the ARF expressed "deep concern" over the Cheonan incident and support for the UN Security Council statement, but did not "clarify the author of the sinking".

Clinton meanwhile announced that President Barack Obama will invite ASEAN leaders to a summit in Washington this year as part of the administration's efforts to reach out to Southeast Asia.

She also called for the release of political prisoners in military-ruled Myanmar, including Nobel laureate democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.