Seoul protests spy plane incidentThe Ministry of Defense issued a protest to North Korea about last week’s interception of a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) by the North’s fighter jets, and warned against military action that could further heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula.
The Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Hwang Yeoung-soo, said in a statement that the actions threatened efforts by South Korea and the international community for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue. It also said the consequences of such action for the security of the peninsula could be serious.
The protest came five days after four North Korean jets shadowed an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane as it flew 240 kilometers (150 miles) off the east coast of the peninsula. Reports said the fighters came as close as 15 meters to the spy plane, maneuvered aggressively and gave some indication of preparing to fire on the U.S. aircraft.
The protest was issued a day after the new administration’s defense, foreign affairs and unification ministers met formally for the first time Thursday. Observers suggested the statement could have been an attempt to soothe U.S. officials who were stung by President Roh Moo-hyun’s initial response to the incident.
Mr. Roh said in an interview with the Times of London that the incident was part of a “predictable” chain of events, suggesting that the increased frequency of U.S. spy missions may have provoked North Korea. Washington said it would make a formal protest to North Korea over the incident, but it has not yet gone beyond calling it a reckless and meaningless provocation that would avail the North nothing.
Earlier in the week, U.S. President George W. Bush held out the option of military action against the North if other efforts failed. Yesterday, Mr. Bush returned to stressing his commitment to diplomacy.
“This is a regional issue,” Mr. Bush said yesterday in Washington, referring to the possibility that North Korea could deploy nuclear weapons. The United States is working with countries in the region, he said, specifically mentioning China, “to bring multilateral pressure on Kim Jong-il to convince him that the development of a nuclear arsenal is not in his interests.”
Pyeongyang continued to complain about what it called more preparations for an attack by the United States. The state-run Central News Agency said the country would “answer war with war.”
The incident on Sunday came after a North Korean fighter jet intruded into South Korean airspace on the other side of the peninsula on Feb. 20, just before Mr. Roh took office.
by Kim Young-sae
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