- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

SEOUL — North Korea fired a barrage of short-range missiles into the Yellow Sea yesterday morning amid an ongoing impasse in nuclear talks and more tension in Seoul-Pyongyang relations.

South Korea reacted calmly, confirming the launch of several ship-fired missiles at approximately 10:30 a.m. In Washington, a White House spokesman called the missile tests “not constructive.”

“North Korea should focus on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs, and nuclear proliferation activities and to complete the agreed disablement,” spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

The missile launch occurred one day after North Korea expelled South Korean officials from the Kaesong Special Industrial Zone, a business park run by South Korean firms using North Korean labor. Southern businessmen were allowed to remain.

Analysts say the actions could be Pyongyang’s angry response to a harder line toward North Korea in Seoul following the Feb. 25 inauguration of conservative President Lee Myung-bak.

North Korea customarily tests missiles when frustrated at international developments. The Yellow Sea naval border is the tensest flash point between the two Koreas as the result of fatal naval clashes there in 1999 and 2002.

The missile tests “could be an extension of military exercises; North Korea usually concludes winter exercises in March and April,” said Kim Tae-woo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis. He cited a number of recent moves and announcements by Seoul as reasons for the North”s displeasure.

On Wednesday, Gen. Kim Tae-young, Seoul”s new head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted his forces were studying the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea”s nuclear facilities.

On Thursday, South Korea voted on a U.N. resolution condemning North Korean human rights violations. Seoul had, under the past 10 years of liberal rule, customarily declined to vote on such issues in order not to infuriate its neighbor.

Last week, the Unification Ministry said there would be no expansion of Kaesong without progress on denuclearization.

Moreover, February and March are the usual months for North-South ministerial meetings at which food and fertilizer aid is provided. This year, there have been no talks.

Meanwhile, Washington and Pyongyang are unable to bridge their differences in denuclearization talks. Washington insists the North declare its suspected uranium-based program. Pyongyang vehemently denies its existence. Negotiations have been deadlocked since November.

Yesterday, the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang”s official mouthpiece, blamed the U.S. for the impasse. Earlier this week, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said at a news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington that “time and patience is running out’” on the nuclear issue.

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