The US military chief in South Korea told North Korea yesterday to stop provocations and “act like a responsible country,” amid reports Pyongyang is preparing a long-range missile test.
US and South Korean forces are prepared for any contingency, General Walter Sharp said in reference to reports of a possible launch.
“Many, many countries around the world are watching North Korea right now to see if it will act responsibly or not,” Sharp told a press conference. “We call on North Korea to stop provocations and act like a responsible country.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said earlier that his government’s policy would not change despite increasingly strong threats from North Korea.
“I am very aware there are people who are concerned about the recent series of North Korean threats, but you do not need to worry too much,” the president said in his regular radio address.
Pyongyang last month said it would scrap peace accords with the South, including a 1991 pact in which it recognized their Yellow Sea border as an interim frontier.
The announcement fueled fears of clashes in the area, which was the scene of bloody naval battles in 1999 and 2002.
The North’s official media has warned of possible conflict with the South.
US academic Selig Harrison said last week that hawks had come to dominate defense policy in Pyongyang since leader Kim Jong-il’s reported stroke last August.
Sharp said US and South Korean forces had contingency plans for any instability in the North “from the entire range of humanitarian disaster, to major civil war and potential loose nuclear weapons.”
He gave no details.
The general, who commands 28,500 US troops in the country, said the North’s short-range missiles and artillery deployed along the border “are a great concern for us.”
Sharp said radar systems could rapidly pinpoint such installations for destruction if war broke out, but there “would still would be destruction in Seoul.”
Lee said his government was ready for dialogue but would not rush into negotiations.
“I believe it is better to start off with a little difficulty, but ensure things are set right to reach a positive outcome, instead of trying to figure out what North Korea wants while saying all is well that ends well,” he said.
“We are ready to work with North Korea. North Korea, too, must realize the South is the only country in the entire world that is sincerely concerned for its future and willing to help it,” Lee said.
Inter-Korean relations have worsened since Lee, a conservative, took office last February.
Lee rolled back his liberal predecessors’ decade-long policy of engagement with Pyongyang and said major economic assistance would depend on the North’s willingness to scrap its nuclear weapons program.
He also vowed to review summit deals signed in 2000 and 2007 with the North.
The policy has enraged the North, which has suspended dialogue and imposed tight border controls.
On Sunday, it said Lee’s choice of a hardliner as unification minister would cause relations to collapse.
The criticism came on the eve of a parliamentary confirmation hearing yesterday for Hyun In-taek, an architect of Lee’s tougher policy toward Pyongyang.