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North Korea Threats of Military Strike on US Loom Large

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to engage in saber rattling As North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric regarding a potential military attack on the United States and South Korea continues to escalate, media reports reveal that Pyongyang has readied itself to pull out all of its 53,000 workers from the only joint complex operated by the two Koreas.

Quoting the secretary of the Workers Party central committee, North Korean state media has said that all of the country’s employees in the Kaesong industrial zone will withdraw.

Pyongyang radio has quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who visited Kaesong on Monday, April 8, as saying operations there will be temporarily suspended and the fate of the complex will be examined. Kim was also quoted as saying that this decision is dependent on the attitude of the South Korean authorities in the coming days. Having labeled the South Koreans as “military warmongers”, Kim alleges that they are seeking to make the joint industrial zone a point of confrontation.

Last week, North Korea terminated the issuance of the daily permits for South Korean managers and cargo to enter the complex, which is just north of the border. The complex has been a major source of hard currency for the North Korean government as the workers’ salaries go to the state, not directly to the employees of the small factories, which assemble household goods.

Analysts have previously said any suspension of operations at Kaesong would significantly increase already-high tension on the Korean peninsula.

On Sunday, April 7, a top South Korean national security official said that North Korea may be setting the stage for a missile test or another provocative act with its warning that it soon will be unable to guarantee diplomats’ safety in Pyongyang. The official added that the North’s clearest objective is to extract concessions from Washington and Seoul.

North Korea’s warning last week followed weeks of war threats and other efforts to punish South Korea and the U.S. for ongoing joint military drills, and for their support of U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang’s Feb. 12 nuclear test. Many nations are deciding what to do about the notice, which said their diplomats’ safety in Pyongyang cannot be guaranteed beginning this Wednesday, April 10.

Tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang led South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to announce on Sunday, April 7, that its chairman had postponed a trip to Washington. The U.S. military said its top commander in South Korea had also canceled a trip to Washington. The South Korean defense minister said Thursday that North Korea had moved a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, possibly to conduct a test launch.

His description suggests that the missile could be the Musudan missile, capable of striking American bases in Guam with its estimated range of up to 4,000 kilometers (2,490 miles).

During a meeting with other South Korean officials, it was reported that the notice to foreign diplomats and other recent North Korean actions are an attempt to stoke security concerns and to force South Korea and the U.S. to offer a dialogue. Washington and Seoul want North Korea to resume the six-party nuclear talks — which also include China, Russia and Japan — that it abandoned in 2009.

The roughly two dozen countries with embassies in North Korea had not yet announced whether they would evacuate their staffs.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested that North Korea’s comments about the safety of foreign diplomats are “consistent” with a regime that is using the prospect of an external threat to justify its militarization to its people. “I haven’t seen any immediate need to respond to that by moving our diplomats out of there,” he told the BBC on Saturday. “We will keep this under close review with our allies, but we shouldn’t respond and play to that rhetoric and that presentation of an external threat every time they come out with it.”

Germany said its embassy in Pyongyang would stay open for at least the time being.

“The situation there is tense but calm,” a German Foreign Office official, who declined to be named in line with department policy, said in an email. “The security and danger of the situation is constantly being evaluated. The different international embassies there are in close touch with each other.”

Indonesia’s foreign affairs ministry said it was considering a plan to evacuate its diplomats. A statement released by the ministry on Saturday said that its embassy in Pyongyang has been preparing a contingency plan to anticipate the worst-case scenario, and that the Indonesian foreign minister is communicating with the staff there to monitor the situation.

India also said it was monitoring events. “We have been informed about it,” said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry. “We are in constant touch with our embassy and are monitoring the situation. We will carefully consider all aspects and decide well in time.”

Official statements from Pyongyang have recently hinted that North Korea has the capability to produce both plutonium and uranium fueled weapons and that it has developed a warhead small enough to fit atop a missile. Most experts, however, doubt it has yet achieved that capability.

On Sunday, the president’s national security chief stated North Korea could be poised to launch one or more of its untested medium-range missiles around April 10th.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to reporters at the Hague, said North Korea “cannot go on like this, confronting and challenging the authority of the Security Council and the international community.” He also called on Pyongyang to “refrain from taking any further provocative measures.”

Meanwhile, Japan’s defense minister has authorized his country’s self defense forces to shoot down any incoming North Korean missile. This is the first time such authorization has been given prior to any announcement from Pyongyang of a planned missile test.

The Defense Ministry in Tokyo also confirms the United States is considering deploying high altitude aerial reconnaissance “Global Hawk” drones to Misawa air base in northern Japan to monitor North Korea.

The U.S. Defense Department has delayed a test launch from California of a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile. Officials say while the test had no connection to North Korea, it was felt best to postpone it so as to not further exacerbate tension.

North Korea’s inherent hostilities increased after the U.S. Air Force sent long-range strategic bombers to fly over South Korea during a current joint annual exercise.

After a missile launch and nuclear test in violation of U.N sanctions, Pyongyang has announced an abrogation of the 1953 armistice between itself and South Korea, threatened the United States and its Pacific bases with preemptive nuclear strikes and declared that a state of war exists between the North and the South.

Top officials of South Korea’s government, including the president, have repeatedly warned North Korea through public statements that it faces a punishing military response should the South feel that its citizens are endangered.

Agreements between the U.S. and South Korean militaries call for close consultations on any response to North Korean aggression. General Thurman, as head of the Combined Forces Command, would also lead South Korean forces if full-scale war erupts.

Analysts and seasoned pundits alike have all postulated that the bluster emanating from North Korea is a display of Kim Jong Un’s newly acquired political brinksmanship and that he has no intention of throwing his country in to a full fledged war. Meanwhile, media opinion makers have placed the blame on China’s doorstep for allowing this conflict to mushroom. They chide China for refusing to harness the North Koreans with more sanctions and proffer the notion that it is in China’s interest not to see North Korea in a state of war as a very real possibility exists of a massive North Korean refugee crisis on China’s border.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, on Sunday said he does not believe North Korea is poised to engage in military action but he “can’t take the chance that it won’t.”

Seoul and Washington, which lack diplomatic relations with the North, are taking the threats seriously, though they say they have seen no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a large-scale attack.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has followed provocations from North Korea with shows of force connected to the joint exercises with South Korea. It has sent nuclear capable B-2 and B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighters to participate in the drills.

In addition, the U.S. said last week that two of the Navy’s missile-defense ships were moved closer to the Korean Peninsula, and a land-based missile-defense system is being deployed to the Pacific territory of Guam later this month. The Pentagon last month announced longer-term plans to strengthen its U.S.-based missile defenses.

The U.S. military also is considering deploying an intelligence drone at the Misawa Air Base in northern Japan to step up surveillance of North Korea, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Iran’s foreign ministry urged all sides to exercise restraint and not to move toward “provocative behavior.”

“We think that the event that is intensifying between North Korea, South Korea and the United states should be controlled as soon as possible,” Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying. “Both parties should not move toward a corner in which there is a threatening climate.”

Mehmanparast’s comments came two days after Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, reportedly said that North Korea had “no choice except confronting the U.S.”

Newspaper JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying that South Korean intelligence has detected “increased activity of labor forces and vehicles” at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the country’s north-east.

“We are closely monitoring the ongoing situation, which is very similar to the situation ahead of the third nuclear test,” the official told the newspaper. “We are trying to figure out whether it is a genuine preparation for a nuclear test or just a ploy to heap more pressure on us and the US.”

Media reports disclose that the recent schedule on North Korea’s state radio showed a continuing diet of war and retribution, with programs about biochemical war, nuclear war and military preparations dominating the listing.

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