North Korea lambasted South Korea’s new defense chief yesterday for threatening to launch air strikes against the North and accused the South of causing “uncontrollable, extreme” tension on the peninsula.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told a confirmation hearing last week that jets would bomb the North if it stages another attack like the shelling on a front-line island that killed four South Koreans. Kim took office on Saturday, replacing a predecessor who resigned amid criticism that South Korea’s response to the Nov. 23 shelling was too slow and weak.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) issued a statement yesterday accusing the South of staging a series of “frantic provocations,” including the defense minister’s remarks.
“The frantic provocations ... are rapidly driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to an uncontrollable extreme phase,” KCNA said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.
The dispatch said South Korea plans to stage new naval drills with the US soon, start its own live-fire drills from today and deploy missiles, rockets and other sophisticated weapons to Yeonpyeong Island that was hit by a North Korean artillery barrage.
“The puppet military warlike forces were reported to have already worked out the so-called ‘retaliatory plan’ which calls for sparking off an armed clash after getting on the nerves of the [North Korean] military and taking a large-scale counteraction under this pretext,” it said.
South Korea’s military declined yesterday to confirm whether it has such a military retaliation.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officers only said a new joint drill with the US — which would follow last’s week’s massive joint naval drill at Yellow Sea — was still under discussion with Washington and the live-fire exercise was a routine drill that has been scheduled well before the artillery barrage.
Kim inspected an army base near the heavily fortified land border yesterday and urged troops to strengthen their combat capability and mental toughness, according to his office. He visited Yeonpyeong Island on Saturday and vowed to take strong measures to ensure North Korea would not dare to make more provocations.
The latest assault on Yeonpyeong Island was the North’s first to target a civilian area since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
The North also stoked regional tension last month by revealing a large uranium-enrichment facility that would give it a new method of making material for atomic bombs in addition to its known plutonium-based program. Top diplomats from the US, South Korea and Japan were to meet in Washington today to discuss the North’s nuclear program and its artillery barrage.
“What we object to is a pursuit of nuclear weapons that can be used to threaten and intimidate their neighbors and beyond,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Bahrain. “That is unacceptable, and it is destabilizing.”