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Seoul ponders limit on aid to the North

Pyongyang calls launches military drills, warns of ‘physical action’ against sanctions

July 06,2006

South Korean workers loading fertilizer sacks yesterday at a dock in Ulsan. The ship and another ship from Yeosu, South Jeolla province, will head today to Haeju Port and Nampo Port to transport the last 20,000 tons of 200,000 tons of fertilizers South Korea promised to send to North Korea. Despite North Korea’s missile tests, the South Korean government decided to send the last fertilizers as a humanitrian aid. [YONHAP]

Pyongyang raised the stakes again yesterday, less than 48 hours after it fired a barrage of missiles into the sea off its coast, by warning that it would continue its “missile launching drills.”
Officials in Seoul said they were leaning heavily toward the suspension of some aid to the North, although other forms of cooperation would continue. These South Korean officials agreed that more missiles might take to the air from the North.
The Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang’s mouthpiece, carried a statement from the foreign ministry saying that the launches were tests of its deterrent and self-defense capabilities.
In familiar flamboyant language, the statement said in part, “If someone tries to have a row with us over [the tests] or to pressure us, we have no other choice but to take a different form of physical action.”
Despite the welcome the launches received from left-wing groups in the South, some senior administration officials were more somber. Yoon Kwang-ung, the defense minister, told the National Assembly’s defense committee that more missiles might be launched.
At a separate hearing, lawmakers asked Lee Jong-seok if he could guarantee that none of those missiles would be aimed southward. “We can’t guarantee it,” he replied.
In Washington, Tony Snow agreed. The White House press secretary said, “We’re watching this with interest and keeping on top of it. But there certainly is the potential [for more launches] there. We don’t know if they’re going to act on it or not.”
National Intelligence Service officials told the Assembly that there was one more Taepodong missile at the launch site in northeastern North Korea, and said Pyongyang was likely to test it after technological problems are overcome. But they predicted that fixing the problem that presumably caused a similar missile to malfunction 40 seconds into its flight during Wednesday’s predawn house would take some time.
Beginning at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, the North Koreans launched six missiles within about five hours, and punctuated their display of force with another launch late Wednesday afternoon.
One of the seven was the Taepodong-2 that malfunctioned; all the missiles splashed into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) 700 miles off the Japanese coast.
Unification Minister Lee repeated earlier suggestions that Seoul’s aid to Pyongyang may be reduced, but gave no specifics. At the Assembly, he said, “We will analyze the situation and press forward with countermeasures step by step.”
It appears that Seoul will not cancel an inter-Korean ministerial meeting next week; officials argued that they must keep open lines of communications with the North. But one official said yesterday that shipments of 100,000 tons of fertilizer and 500,000 tons of rice, the remainder of assistance promised this year, would be suspended at least temporarily.
“There should be no misunderstanding on this,” the official said. “We told the North that actions would be taken if they fired a missile.”
Other projects, such as manufacturing at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to the resort area of Mount Kumgang, will probably not be touched. Mr. Lee, the Unification Minister, said the two projects had long-term goals and involved private capital, and so were not appropriate instruments of retaliation.
The Blue House said yesterday that President Roh Moo-hyun and U.S. President George W. Bush agreed in a 10-minute phone call to continue diplomatic efforts to rein in the North, but also agreed that the missile display was a “serious provocation.” Further high-level meetings are in the works; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to be in Seoul later this month, and Mr. Roh will travel to Washington in September.
International efforts to coordinate a response to the launches, which came despite a flood of warnings to North Korea to show restraint, also broke down quickly. At the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia said they opposed a resolution calling for sanctions, a resolution proposed by Japan and backed by the United States and Britain. China and Russia, both allies of North Korea, have a veto in the council.
Han Song-ryol, in a phone interview yesterday with the Tokyo Broadcasting System, said any sanctions would be met by “all possible” reactions. Pyongyang has repeatedly said sanctions would be considered a declaration of war against it.
Diplomatic sources said yesterday that Christopher Hill, Washington’s envoy to the stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programs, will arrive in Seoul today for discussions concerning those talks and the missile launches.


by Brian Lee


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