South Korea sent a delegation to observe a US-led anti-proliferation exercise, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, despite Seoul's reluctance to fully participate in an initiative that could antagonize its northern neighbor.
Separately, South Korea and the US have been monitoring activities at a possible nuclear site in North Korea to determine if Pyongyang was planning a second test, reports said on Saturday.
The exercise, which is part of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), will be held in the Persian Gulf today as part of a program that could be used to halt North Korean weapons traffic in accordance with UN sanctions.
It will be the first PSI drill since North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test.
Despite pressure from Washington to fully participate in the PSI, South Korea has voiced concerns that its participation in searching and inspecting North Korean ships could lead to clashes with the North.
Seoul is trying to maintain a tricky balance as it wants to avoid confrontation with the North but must still firmly denounce Pyongyang's nuclear test and impose sanctions according to an unanimous UN resolution.
"We have not [fully] participated in the PSI because there is a high possibility of armed clashes if the PSI is carried out in waters around the Korean Peninsula," Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told Parliament on Friday.
Washington has assembled 60 nations to join the PSI, an attempt to work with other navies and air forces to monitor and potentially intercept ships or aircraft suspected of ferrying illicit materials to rogue nations or to terrorists.
The PSI in isn't empowered to search ships in international waters because of laws guaranteeing free passage. Critics question the legality of seizures and express concern that the program could end up targeting dual-use material not intended for weapons production.
Meanwhile, news reports from yesterday indicated that North Korea had stepped up efforts to prevent intelligence being leaked out to China.
Pyongyang made the move as it expected foreign countries to boost intelligence-gathering efforts after its Oct. 9 nuclear detonation, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified North Korea-watcher in Shenyang.
The North has also increased the number of guards on its border with China to prevent defections, the report said.