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N. Korea feared to undertake aggressive provocations during Korea-U.S. exercises: U.S. expert

All Headlines 03:17 July 13, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, July 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea could undertake provocations, including not only weapons tests, such as missile launches, but also covert attacks on South Korea, next month when the South and the U.S. conduct joint military exercises, a U.S. expert said Tuesday.

The communist nation is upset by the U.S. imposition of sanctions on leader Kim Jong-un last week for his role in the country's human rights violations, as well as by a decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy a THAAD missile defense battery in the South.

Pyongyang called the sanctions on Kim "an open declaration of war" and vowed to deal with all issues between it and the U.S., including the issue of two detained American citizens, according to its wartime law. It also vowed to "totally cut off" the only dialogue channel with the U.S. via its U.N. mission, called the "New York channel."

The North's military also threatened to take "physical" action against a THAAD deployment.

"The upcoming August exercise will provide North Korea with a justification for acting out," Ken Gause, a senior North Korea analyst at CNA Corp. in Washington, told Yonhap News Agency.

"The question is whether North Korea will stick with demonstrations and tests or will it try something more aggressive. If North Korea tries something aggressive, it most likely will be a covert -- versus an overt -- attack," he said.

The North has protested angrily every time the South and the U.S. conduct annual drills, calling such maneuvers a rehearsal for invasion, despite repeated assurances from Seoul and Washington that the exercises are purely defensive.

Gause said the North's shutdown of the "New York channel" is no surprise.

"North Korea is in no mood to discuss anything with the United States. They have come to the conclusion that any meaningful headway on issues of importance to Pyongyang cannot be made under the current administration, which has taken the unprecedented step of sanctioning its supreme leader," he said.

The expert said that Pyongyang won't be negotiating the release of U.S. detainees.

"North Korea will not enter into negotiations on their release until it is ready to reengage with the United States, which could be awhile given the challenges on both sides for reestablishing the bilateral relationship," he said.

Two American citizens -- college student Otto Warmbier and Korean-American pastor Kim Dong-chul -- are currently detained in the North after being sentenced to long prison terms for what Pyongyang calls subversive acts against the country.

After the North threatened to deal with them under wartime law, the U.S. urged Pyongyang to "cease what is obviously an improper and unjust detention of these individuals."

Victor Cha, chief Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the New York channel, which was used as a backup channel for nuclear negotiations, has been used largely to deal with American detainees in the administration of President Barack Obama.

The loss of the dialogue channel could be dangerous as "we head into the fall with US-ROK military exercises in August and U.S. presidential elections in November," Cha said, adding that the North likes to do provocations and spark crises around time of U.S. elections.


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