Saturday, December 18, 2010

North Korea Threatens New Attack

Concerns of Escalation Rise After Pyongyang Warns of 'Deadlier' Response If South Proceeds With Drills on Shelled Island

SEOUL—North Korea warned Friday that it would attack South Korea more violently than it did last month if Seoul proceeds with plans to test-fire artillery from the island Pyongyang shelled.

The statement raises the stakes on what was already seen as a risky test of the fortitude of both Koreas to dispute the inter-Korean maritime border. Officials in the U.S., Russia and at the United Nations Friday expressed concern that the situation on the Korean peninsula could escalate out of control.

The Korean People's Army said in a statement relayed by the North's state media that its response this time "will be deadlier than what was made on Nov. 23 in terms of the powerfulness and sphere of the strike."

Four South Koreans died, including two civilians, when North Korea fired approximately 170 artillery rounds on Yeonpyeong, an island in the Yellow Sea just a few miles away from the North Korean coastline.

North Korea's latest statement also reiterated North Korea's claim of waters that have long been controlled by South Korea near Yeonpyeong and four other islands. North Korea said South Korea and the U.S. "had better cogitate" about its warning.

South Korea's military and government didn't immediately respond.

The South Korean military announced Thursday it would again stage its monthly artillery test from a marine post on Yeonpyeong sometime between Saturday and Tuesday, depending on weather and other conditions.

South Korea wants to assert its hold of islands and water it has controlled since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s, but Seoul officials and the public are wary of actions that would escalate the matter into a broader conflict.

Officials in the U.S., South Korea's closest military ally since the Korean War, also worry about retaliation spiraling, and held meetings with senior Chinese and Russian leaders.

In Beijing, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Thursday with China's top foreign affairs official, State Councilor Dai Bingguo. In Moscow, Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday summoned the U.S. and South Korean ambassadors to warn against the test firing.

Still, the Obama administration stressed that it stood behind South Korea's right to conduct its military exercises. Washington again turned up pressure on Beijing and Moscow to do more to constrain North Korea.

"We want to see other countries, including China, Russia and others, send a clear message to North Korea to cease its provocations," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "A country has every right to train and exercise its military in its own self-defense."

According to Chinese state media, Mr. Dai, who visited North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang last week, said he believed the so-called six-party talks should be expanded to handle matters including the current dispute between the two Koreas. The diplomatic process began in 2003 to persuade North Korea to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has resisted Chinese calls for an imminent return to six-party talks; U.S. officials said such diplomacy at this time could be seen as rewarding Pyongyang for bad behavior. And they stressed that North Korea must take steps first to reduce tensions with South Korea.

North Korea's foreign minister was in Moscow for talks early this week, after which Moscow called for resuming the six-party talks.

Separately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a press conference Friday, "I am increasingly and deeply concerned about the situation in the Korean peninsula." Mr. Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said he hopes calm can be restored through "dialogue," but declined to answer a question on whether he agreed with Russia's request to South Korea to call off the test.

Pyongyang has chafed for years over the inter-Korean maritime boundary drawn at the end of the Korean War of the 1950s, which puts Yeonpyeong in South Korean waters. The maritime boundary forces North Korea commercial and military vessels to make a long trip westward before reaching open sea.

The Obama administration also continued to distance itself Friday from a visit to Pyongyang this week by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The State Department said the former U.S. congressman, one of a small number of former U.S. officials who receives invitations from North Korea's regime, had notified Washington about his trip. But U.S. officials stressed that he wasn't carrying any message from Mr. Obama, nor was he playing some interlocutor role.

—Jay Solomon and Joe Lauria contributed to this article.
Rising Pitch

Voices on escalating Korea tensions, on Thursday and Friday

South Korea: 'We will react firmly and strongly to any fresh North Korean provocations.'

North Korea: 'The puppet military warmongers should ... stop the planned provocative maritime shelling.'

U.S.: 'A country has every right to train and exercise its military in its own self-defense.'

Russia: 'We strongly call on South Korea to refrain from holding the planned artillery firing.'

China: 'The six-party talks are the only effective way to solve the peninsular issues.'

—WSJ Research

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A10

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