North Korea Threats Unlikely to Dissuade South from Planned Military Drill

Article excerpt

North Korea and South Korea have both raised the stakes in a Yellow Sea confrontation, with each side wanting to save face.

North and South Korea have raised the stakes in their confrontation in the Yellow Sea with challenges that analysts say are making it difficult for either side to back down easily.

In the face of South Korean plans to stage a live-fire exercise from the island that North Korea hit Nov. 23 with a deadly artillery barrage, the North promises to respond with "self-defensive blows" of an "intensity and range" far greater than before.

Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency issued the statement, attributed to an anonymous colonel, in the midst of a flurry of efforts to ease escalating tensions, including a visit to Pyongyang by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

"It's worse than a game of chicken," says Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister who has also been ambassador to the US. "We'll have to wait it out."

However North Korea fulminates, South Korean analysts say the South has to go through with the exercises as planned within the next few days.

"That can't stop South Korea from doing what it plans to do," says Mr. Han, who now chairs the influential Asan Institute in Seoul. As for North Korea's statement, he says, "It's not the first time for their huffing and puffing."

Gov. Richardson's visit

One reason North Korea may not repeat last month's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, in which two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed, is the visit of Gov. Richardson, accompanied by a CNN crew, to Pyongyang.

"They'll probably show them the uranium enrichment program," says Han. "That should be threatening enough."

After talks Friday with North Korean officials, Richardson is expected to visit the North Korean nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, where North Korea has nearly completed a facility with a 20-megawatt reactor for producing highly enriched uranium.

North Korea showed the facility to a US delegation led by nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker in November, two weeks before the Yeonpyeong attack.

The uranium program marks a major step beyond North Korea's production of nuclear devices with plutonium at their core, extracted from a five-megawatt reactor at the same complex. The North has already conducted two underground tests of plutonium devices and is believed to be gearing up to test a uranium device within a few months. …