Amid unabated concerns over North Korea’s fresh nuclear test in time for another major anniversary, South Korea and the US are poised to be on heightened alert this week with cutting-edge military assets ready.
With the communist state marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday, Seoul and Washington have been intensifying their warnings against any additional provocation.
Tension has been spiraling in recent weeks amid widespread speculation that North Korea may test a new nuclear device or an intercontinental ballistic missile in celebration of the 105th birthday of its late founding father Kim Il-sung on April 15.
In a show of force, the US’ Donald Trump administration redirected the Carl Vinson nuclear carrier strike group, which was already here last month for a joint military exercise with South Korea, toward the peninsula. During a visit to Seoul last week, Vice President Mike Pence warned Pyongyang “not to test” the US and “all options are on the table,” saying its recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed the “strength and resolve” of Trump and the country’s military.
The moves prompted the North to respond with fresh threats of more weapons tests, a pre-emptive strike and nuclear war. But marking Kim’s birthday, it fired a midrange ballistic missile instead, which appeared to have exploded midair, and showed off a new ICBM at a military parade.
The military anniversary has been deemed another occasion for a major provocation, and therefore is expected to set the initial tone for the Trump administration’s approach to the Kim Jong-un regime.
Continued activities shown in satellite imagery from Wednesday at the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicated it is able to conduct a sixth underground detonation “at any time,” the 38 North, a blog run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said Friday, though it is unclear if the site was in a “tactical pause” before a test or in normal operations.
Washington has also been ramping up pressure on Beijing to thwart any additional North Korean provocation through a summit and other diplomatic and military measures.
After controversy over its whereabouts, the Carl Vinson will arrive in the East Sea “in a matter of days,” Pence said Saturday in Sydney.
If the North indeed presses ahead with a nuclear or ICBM test, it would face further stringent condemnations and sanctions at the UN Security Council. With the US being this month’s chair, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host a UNSC session Friday, and a separate meeting on its sidelines with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers, Yun Byung-se and Fumio Kishida.
Ahead of the ministerial talks, the three countries’ top nuclear negotiators are scheduled to gather in Tokyo on Tuesday.
China, for its part, is seen stepping up efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from the provocation. The US reportedly mentioned increased activities of Chinese bombers, while Beijing’s state media has called for a cut in oil supplies to the unruly neighbor and said China would not intervene even if the US strikes North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
“We’re closely monitoring all the developments, and if the North conducts a nuclear test, which we hope not, the situation would obviously deteriorate,” an official at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said on customary condition of anonymity.
“But if we pass through this crisis without any large provocation, things could rather quickly turn around to defuse tension and attempt dialogue.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Source : The Korea Herald
WASHINGTON, April 23 (Yonhap) — The United States should do whatever it takes to stop North Korea from acquiring capabilities to strike the continental U.S. with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, Senator Marco Rubio said Sunday.
The former Republican presidential candidate made the case in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” after the moderator said that tensions with the North have led to many people raising questions if the U.S. is going to go to war with the communist nation.
“Obviously, we have to ask ourselves a very fundamental question. And that is, it is acceptable, can we live in a world where Kim Jong-un possesses not just nuclear weapons, but the ability to deliver those weapons against the continental United States? Can we live in a world like that?” he said.
“If the answer is no, then the options — and the answer is no for me — then the options before you are truly quite limited. And none of them are good,” the senator said. “We must do almost whatever it takes, just about anything, to prevent Kim Jong-un from acquiring the nuclear capability he can deliver against the mainland of the United States of America.”
Calls have been growing in the U.S. for militarily taking out the North’s ICBM capabilities, despite repeated warnings from experts that such a strike could quickly escalate into a second Korean War as the North is sure to strike back.
Last week, a ranking Republican senator, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), also said that the U.S. should launch a preemptive strike on North Korea if that’s what it takes to stop Pyongyang from building a missile capable of hitting the country.
“It would be terrible but the war would be over here (there), wouldn’t be here,” Graham said with a gesture with his fingers. “It would be bad for the Korean Peninsula. It would be bad for China. It would be bad for Japan, be bad for South Korea. It would be the end of North Korea. But what it would not do is hit America and the only way it could ever come to America is with a missile.”
Source : Yonhap News Agency
WASHINGTON • The Pentagon can defend against any North Korean missile threat, but Pyongyang’s rapidly evolving weapons programme is shrinking the warning time ahead of a launch, says a top general.
General Lori Robinson said she was “extremely confident” of America’s ability to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile, if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un succeeds in developing the technology.
“Right now… he can’t reach our homeland, but I am confident, should he do that,” said Gen Robinson, who heads the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which provides missile detection and defence for the region.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, the latest in a string of missile tests. The latest test came just ahead of US President Donald Trump’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Pentagon said the extended- range Scud missile had an in-flight failure before crashing into the sea. Filled with liquid fuel, Scuds are harder to transport and prepare for launch than the more sophisticated solid-fuel rockets used by the US and other nations.
North Korea is now building and testing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a solid-fuel motor that could be carried by a small, easily hidden road convoy.
On Feb 11, Pyongyang said it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile powered by a solid-fuel engine. Such rockets are harder for existing technology to detect, Gen Robinson warned on Thursday.
“Amid an unprecedented pace of North Korean strategic weapons testing, our ability to provide actionable warning continues to diminish,” she said in written testimony to senators.
She added that the US must continue to invest in the latest sensors and radar systems. “As adversaries continue to pursue credible and advanced capabilities, we too must evolve our missile defence capabilities to outpace increasingly complex threats.”
Source : The Straits Times
With no end in sight to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions or a return of Japanese citizens abducted by the rogue state, Tokyo yesterday said it would extend its own sanctions against Pyongyang for two more years.
The unilateral penalties, which were first imposed in 2006, were due to expire next Thursday, and complement six sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions.
Japan’s sanctions include a trade embargo and a ban on North Korean-registered ships calling at its ports except for humanitarian purposes, and on chartered flights between the two nations.
These come on top of UN sanctions that aim to choke the impoverished North into giving up its nuclear programme, via methods such as limiting coal exports and severing money flows into the country.
“We will strictly implement these measures while, under the principle of dialogue and pressure, and action for action, doing our best to achieve a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear and missile issues,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, meanwhile, lauded the effectiveness of Japanese sanctions, saying: “In 2005, imports from North Korea to Japan were worth 15 billion yen (S$190 million) and exports 7 billion yen. But this has since been reduced to zero with the trade embargo in place.”
The extension comes two days after North Korea fired what is suspected to be an extended-range Scud missile, and amid reports that it might be gearing up for a showcase of its prowess to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung next Saturday.
While some defence experts posit that Wednesday’s launch had ended in failure, others caution that Pyongyang could have been testing a new form of rocket that would bring it closer towards building an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US.
Yet another longstanding issue for Japan is the North’s abductions of its citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. The official list has 17 victims, but Tokyo suspects Pyongyang to be behind more unsolved disappearances. In 2014, the North agreed to reopen a probe into the missing Japanese. But it reneged on the promise in February last year as Tokyo increased sanctions in response to the North’s conduct of a nuclear test a month earlier.
Defence experts such as Dr Tosh Minohara of Kobe University said Japan is caught between a rock and a hard place by way of what it is able to do to rein in North Korea.
While calling the extension of sanctions a mere symbolic gesture as they have not thwarted Pyongyang’s belligerence, he said it is “the only thing that Japan can do”.
“Lifting sanctions will be very inappropriate and sends a wrong signal,” he said. “At the same time, nothing was strengthened and this suggests Japan is at a limit of what it can do when it comes to economic sanctions.”
Even so, he said, Japan’s sanctions are not watertight, pointing to the multibillion-dollar pachinko industry that operates in a legal grey area. Some parlours, he said, are run by North Korean sympathisers who can remit funds via a third country. And then there are reports of subterfuge by North Korean ships that operate under the guise of a Chinese flag, he added. “The ball really is not in (Japan’s) court.”
Source : The Straits Times
(ATTN: ADDS South Korea’s reaction in paras 6-8)
SEOUL, March 26 (Yonhap) — North Korea on Sunday threatened pre-emptive strikes in response to South Korean and U.S. special operations troops’ recent drills for incapacitating Pyongyang’s leadership in case of conflict.
The North Korean People’s Army issued a statement saying that it is ready to fend off any attempts by enemy commandos to attack its leader.
“We will mercilessly trample on all their attempts with our own pre-emptive special operations and our own pre-emptive strikes,” a spokesman of the General Staff Department said.
The statement said the North’s attacks will be carried out without warning and at a time it determines, as long as U.S. special operations forces remain in South Korea.
U.S. commandos, including Navy SEAL Team 6, Army Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets, took part in the annual joint Foal Eagle exercise with South Korea this month.
In response, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement warning the North of consequences of its provocation.
“If the North provokes, our military will sternly retaliate as we have prepared and ensure such an action leads to self-destruction,” it said.
The military defended Foal Eagle as a defensive training to enhance the alliance’s preparedness to defend the South in case of armed conflict. The North has criticized the exercise as preparation for invasion.
A statement by the General Staff Department of the North Korean People’s Army is announced by Pyongyang’s Korean Central TV on March 26, 2017. (Yonhap)
Source : Yonhap News Agency
This combined photo, provided by the North’s ruling party organ Rodong Sinmun on March 16, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un touring the construction site of a new district named Ryomyong Street in Pyongyang. Kim called on builders to finish construction for the new town before the birthday of the country’s late founder Kim Il-sung in April. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) (END)
Source : Yonhap News Agency