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All Headlines 11:22 May 28, 2009

N. Korea Threatens Military Response After S. Korea Joins PSI

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In an announcement that reinforced the concerns of many North Korea observers here, the socialist country said on May 27 it was nullifying an armistice agreement and threatened military action following South Korea's full entry into the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

North Korea unilaterally declared void the agreement that effectively ended the Korean War and warned of an immediate military strike should South Korea attempt to interdict any of its ships, blasting Seoul's participation in the U.S.-led security campaign as a "declaration of war."

The statement, issued by spokesman for the North's permanent military mission to the Panmunjom joint security area, also said the country can no longer guarantee the safety of South Korean and U.S. military ships and private vessels moving along the western sea border.

"As declared to the world, our revolutionary forces will consider the full participation in the PSI by the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors as a declaration of war against us," the North Korean military mission said, referring to the South Korean president, in the statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Just hours later, North Korea reinforced the threat made by the country's military against South Korea. The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a body that handles inter-Korean affairs, accused Seoul of "declaring war" by announcing its participation in the PSI.

Pyongyang "will take such practical counter-measures as in wartime now that the South Korean authorities have declared a war in wanton violation of its dignity and sovereignty by fully participating in the PSI," said the statement carried by the KCNA.

"The DPRK will deal a decisive and merciless retaliatory blow, no matter from which place, at any attempt to stop, check and inspect its vessels, regarding it as a violation of its inviolable sovereignty and territory and a grave provocation to it," the statement said.

In response, South Korea said on the same day it will respond "sternly" to any North Korean provocation along their western sea border, where the socialist country no longer guarantees the safety of foreign vessels. "Should North Korea provoke, we will counteract sternly," the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

South Korea on May 26 declared full participation in the PSI aimed at curbing the spread of the weapons of mass destruction and related materials, reacting sternly to the North's nuclear test a day earlier.

"The government has decided to endorse the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles to counter serious threats posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missiles," foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said in a statement.

Seoul government informed the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and other major countries of its plan to join the PSI before the announcement, according to ministry officials.

"We will send a formal letter notifying that we accept all PSI principles, especially the interdiction principle, to the U.S. State Department later today to complete the process of joining the PSI," an official told reporters in a background briefing. South Korea will be its 95th member.

The official said South Korea is considering attending a regional meeting of the PSI's Operational Expert Group, composed of some 20 core member states, to be held in Poland in June.

South Korea initially made the decision to join the PSI following the North's April 5 rocket launch. But it had delayed a formal announcement in consideration of its efforts to resume dialogue with the communist neighbor.

Seoul government officials said there was no reason to wait any longer as North Korea carried out another nuclear experiment on May 25.

The PSI, launched in 2003, does not directly target any country, but North Korea, long suspected of exporting illicit weapons and parts, is understood to be a main target. North Korea has repeatedly warned that the South's participation in the PSI would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

South Korea's previous liberal administration rejected the U.S. request for Seoul to take part in the PSI, citing "unique geopolitical situations" on the divided peninsula. South Korea had limited its role to observing offshore exercises.

But the current conservative administration, which aims to increase South Korea's role as a global player, said Seoul should play a bigger part in cracking down on the international black market for weapons and related technology. It has also put top priority on strengthening its alliance with the U.S. on foreign policy matters.

"(Participation in the PSI) is a natural obligation for a mature country," Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said. "It will help control North Korea's development of dangerous material."

Realistically, the PSI is one of the few remaining cards Seoul can play against Pyongyang, as all but one joint venture -- the Kaesong industrial complex -- has been shut down since the inauguration of South Korea's conservative Lee Myung-bak administration early last year.

Some experts in Seoul expressed a measure of agreement with the decision, saying it was triggered by North Korea's provocative steps. "I think participation in the PSI, albeit late, has become an inevitable choice due to North Korea's nuclear test," Korea University professor Yoo Ho-yeol said.

But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, was more skeptical. "South Korea's tit-for-tat action is expected to increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula, not to mention entirely cut off inter-Korean relations," he said.

In response to Seoul's most recent move, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement on May 26 (Washington time), "The President welcomes the Republic of Korea's decision today to join the PSI."

"By endorsing the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles, the ROK has joined 94 other countries in a global effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern," Gibbs said.

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