- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Tensions on the Korean peninsula were ratcheted higher Tuesday as North Korea said it was ready to scrap the cease-fire agreement that ended the Korean War to cope with threats from the United States.

Officials and analysts in Seoul interpreted Pyongyang's latest warning as aimed at raising its stakes in the nuclear standoff before possible negotiations with the United States, but many advisers cautioned North Korea about indulging in "nuclear blackmail."

In a statement, the North Korean military's mission to the truce village of Panmunjom threatened to abandon the 1953 armistice if a naval blockade or other sanctions are imposed on the isolated communist state.

"The KPA (Korean People's Army) side will be left with no option but to take a decisive step to abandon its commitment to implement the Armistice Agreement, regarding the possible sanctions to be taken by the U.S. side against the DPRK (North Korea)," the army said.

"If the U.S. side continues violating and misusing the Armistice Agreement as it pleases, there will be no need for the DPRK to remain bound to the AA uncomfortably," said the statement, which was carried by North Korea's state-run Central News Agency. "The future development will entirely depend on the attitude of the U.S. side."

The armistice is the only legal instrument keeping a fragile truce on the divided Korean peninsula that remains in a state of technical war since the 1950-53 war ended without a peace treaty. A withdrawal by North Korea from the agreement would greatly increase tensions, analysts say.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said there were no unusual movements by North Korean troops along the 150-mile inter-Korean border, the world's most heavily armed Cold War frontier.

"We are watching the situation very closely and we are deeply concerned," a defense official told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

The North Korean statement claimed the United States was forcing North Korea to make the decision to scrap the armistice by bolstering its military forces around the peninsula. The United States is ready to "conduct naval blockade operations which can be seen only between the warring states during the war and this is little short of an open declaration of war in the long-run," it said.

The statement came after The New York Times reported Monday Washington is developing plans for sanctions, including halting shipments of weapons from North Korea and stopping the flow of money Korean residents in Japan send to the North.

"North Korea's saber-rattling seems a knee-jerk reaction to increasing pressures from the United States," said Kwak Seung-ji, a North Korea specialist at Seokyeong University. "In a sense, the United States, not North Korea, is playing the game of nuclear brinkmanship," he said.

Pyongyang's Tuesday warning came just after the United States announced its plan to stage two major joint war games jointly with South Korea next month to deter threats from North Korea. The United States has also ordered 12 B-52 bombers and an equal number of B-1 bombers to prepare to move to this region.

"What North Korea wants are U.S. security guarantees and economic aid in return for halting its nuclear program," Kwak said.

But Nam Joo-hong, a strategy expert at Kyonggi University, said North Korea's blackmail attempt can hardly bear fruits.

"North Korea is playing in 'wrong time' (amid the deepening Iraqi crises), with 'wrong partner' (of the hard-line Bush administration), and 'wrong card' (of nuclear)," he said.

"North Korea is expected to make the most of a global campaign against a U.S. plan to attack on Iraq in order to raise its bargaining chip in dealing with Washington," Nam said.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung downplayed the North Korean threats, saying he believed there was no danger of war on the Korean peninsula despite mounting security concerns.

"My conclusion is that I believe the danger of war on the Korean peninsula is slight — in fact, non-existent," Kim told Cabinet ministers.

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