[A-List] US imperialism: North Korea

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu Feb 6 02:51:36 MST 2003

N Korea threatens US with first strike

Pyongyang asserts right to pre-emptive attack as tensions rise over American

Jonathan Watts in Pyongyang
Thursday February 6, 2003
The Guardian

North Korea is entitled to launch a pre-emptive strike against the US rather
than wait until the American military have finished with Iraq, the North's
foreign ministry told the Guardian yesterday.

Warning that the current nuclear crisis is worse than that in 1994, when the
peninsula stood on the brink of oblivion, a ministry spokesman called on
Britain to use its influence with Washington to avert war.

"The United States says that after Iraq, we are next", said the deputy
director Ri Pyong-gap, "but we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive
attacks are not the exclusive right of the US."

His comments came on a day when tension was apparent in Pyongyang, with an
air-raid drill that cleared the city's streets and the North's announcement
that it has begun full-scale operations at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, the
suspected site of weapons-grade plutonium production.

Since reopening the plant in December, the North has kicked out
international inspectors and withdrawn from the global treaty to stop the
spread of nuclear weapons.

Anxiety in North Korea has been rising since Washington announced plans in
the past week to beef up its military strength in the area. Additional
bombers will be sent to the region, along with 2,000 extra troops who will
serve alongside the 17,000 already stationed on the North-South border. USS
Carl Vinson may also be deployed.

According to Pyongyang, the USS Kitty Hawk has already taken up strike
position in waters off the peninsula. The US says that reinforcements are
needed to warn Pyongyang that it should not try to take advantage of
Washington's focus on Iraq.

North Korean officials fear the extra forces are the start of the build-up
for a full-scale confrontation - a dangerous assumption that could push the
peninsula over the edge.

During the last crisis, when the Pentagon planned a surgical strike on the
Yongbyon nuclear plant, American generals were convinced that the North
would rather launch a surprise attack than wait for a US military build-up.

Mr Ri said today's stand-off is more dangerous: "The present situation can
be called graver than it was in 1993. It will be touch and go."

The crisis erupted in October when a US envoy to Pyongyang confronted the
regime with suspicions that North Korea was engaged in a uranium enrichment
programme, in violation of the 1994 agreement which ended the last crisis.

To punish the North, the US cut off supplies of 500,000 tonnes a year of
heavy fuel oil, a severe blow to a nation that is desperately short of
energy. The north of the country is worst hit but power shortages are
apparent even in the capital, where temperatures have fallen as low as -21C

The North claims that the Yongbyon nuclear plant is being used for peaceful
purposes. "The US stopped our oil so our country faces a critical shortage
of electricity," Mr Ri said. "Our nuclear activities will be confined only
to producing electricity."

Both sides say they are committed to finding a diplomatic solution but
remain far apart in their demands. Pyongyang wants a non-aggression treaty
but Washington has said it will not reward blackmail and has hinted only at
a written guarantee of the North's security.

Concern about the crisis has prompted South Korea and Japan to pressure the
US to take a softer line. In a sign that this may be working, the US deputy
secretary of state, Richard Armitage said for the first time yesterday that
the US would definitely hold direct talks with the North. "It is just a
question of when we do it and how," he told the Senate.

A breakthrough stills looks distant. The European Union plans to send a
high-level delegation to North Korea later this month to mediate, but
similar envoys from Russia and South Korea achieved little because the North
insists that the issue is a bilateral matter with the US.

The North has shown a willingness to open up to other na tions. In an
important development, a new road link to South Korea was used for the first
time yesterday.

But the North know that the nuclear issue stands in the way of progress,
prompting a request that Britain intercede. "The US must sign a
non-aggression treaty," Mr Li said.

"I hope that Britain can help to persuade them to do so."

· Japan may deploy two destroyers near North Korea to detect missile
launches, the Kyodo news agency reported on yesterday. Quoting unspecified
government sources, it said Tokyo believes it increasingly likely that
ballistic missiles will be test-fired as part of the North's brinkmanship.

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