Magazine article Newsweek International

Pyongyang Tries to Save Face

Magazine article Newsweek International

Pyongyang Tries to Save Face

Article excerpt

Byline: Takashi Yokota

The two Koreas seemed headed for a dangerous collision ever since international investigators determined that North Korea had torpedoed its Southern neighbor's warship Cheonan. The North's National Defense Commission called the investigation a "farce" and threatened "all-out war" if Seoul and the international community imposed sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak responded by promising to push for sanctions at the United Nations, to cut off trade with the North, and to resume anti-North propaganda along the demilitarized zone. Adding to the alarm, four North Korean submarines left a naval base along the Sea of Japan, putting the South Korean Navy on high alert.

This fracas may not be all it seems, however, because North Korean leader Kim Jong-il seems to be seeking a face-saving way out. Even as the North's fire-breathing generals threatened war, the political leadership is adopting a more diplomatic, if not quite conciliatory, tone. The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which claimed to be speaking on behalf of the entire government, said it would react to sanctions by freezing inter-Korean relations, as well as scrapping the North-South nonaggression agreement. The Foreign Ministry also issued a statement dedicated mostly to blasting the United States, but ending with a claim that its broad aim remains to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Translation: the softer side of Kim Jong-il's regime wants out of this mess. …

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