Agenda for Clinton visitUnited States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is due in Seoul tomorrow. Her visit is being viewed with high expectations and interest, not only because the Barack Obama administration chose East Asia over previous favored destinations - Europe and the Middle East - as its top diplomat’s first overseas trip, but also in view of heightening fears about military provocation by North Korea.
Pyongyang’s threats of a long-range ballistic missile launch are largely regarded as empty rhetoric, timed with Clinton’s first foreign trip, to get attention from the United States and the international community. But they have succeeded in exacerbating security fears here.
North Korea on Monday issued a misleading statement following news reports that it was preparing to test-launch a Taepodong-2 missile from a base on its east coast. North Korea’s state-run news agency said it had the right to pursue a space program and added, “One will know what went up after the launch.” It is not the first time North Korea has tried to mask its missile launches as part of a space program. Seoul maintains that whatever Pyongyang launches, a satellite or a missile, it would be violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, which prohibits North Korea from developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The problem can be elevated to an international legal dispute if North Korea maintains that it has merely launched a satellite.
In the worst-case scenario, the U.S. can shoot down a long-range missile aimed at its territory, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned. This would be a disaster for South Korea, whether the counteraction succeeds or not.
Airborne threats are not the only concern for South Korean military officials. North Korea has increased naval activities along the western sea border. Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee said Seoul was readying for North Korean provocations near sea and land borders. He said he has given authority to field commanders to take necessary action, hinting that military clashes were possible.
Seoul must give Clinton a full account of the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and discuss a concerted response to North Korea’s provocative actions.
The two allies must coordinate their plans to encompass the worst-case scenario of a North Korean missile launch and an attack on South Korean territory, and reconfirm their joint stance and efforts to denuclearize the North Korean regime.