- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

SEOUL — Japan halted trade with North Korea yesterday, while the United States and other nations sought additional penalties against the communist state for reportedly conducting a nuclear test.

President Bush demanded tough sanctions against North Korea, but he vowed to find a diplomatic solution to Pyongyang’s defiance and said there were no plans for a military attack.

North Korea threatened unspecified “physical measures” against the United States and its allies, while South Korea said it was reviewing its defenses against a nuclear attack.

Japan’s sanctions were the most substantive steps against the North since Monday’s reported nuclear test at an underground site north of Pyongyang.

It banned all imports from North Korea and prohibited North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports.

“We cannot tolerate North Korea’s actions if we are to protect Japanese lives and property,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after an emergency security meeting. “These measures were taken to protect the peace.”

Meanwhile at the United Nations, the United States is expected to push for a vote on North Korea by the end of the week despite opposition from China to some of the sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for its reported nuclear test.

One controversial provision in the U.S.-drafted resolution was authorization for international inspections of cargo moving into and out of North Korea to detect weapons-related material. China, diplomats said, had rejected it, but that provision is still in the text circulated among the 15 Security Council members.

John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who acknowledged there were “a number of disagreements,” said he intends to introduce a new draft resolution formally to the Security Council members today with the aim of calling a vote a day later.

Among the imports from North Korea expected to face closed doors in Japan are mushrooms and seafood valued at about $50 million each year, a modest amount but a significant source of foreign currency for the impoverished nation.

Japan also prohibited North Korea nationals from entering Japan, with limited exceptions.

Reports early yesterday morning that North Korea may have tested a second nuclear device were later dispelled. But they underscored a deep insecurity gripping the region.

In Seoul, outgoing Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said South Korea would take a “considered and strategic approach” on whether to join the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), according to Yonhap news agency.

Mr. Ban is scheduled to become the next U.N. secretary-general when Kofi Annan’s term ends in December.

PSI is a program designed to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction by sharing intelligence and intercepting suspect cargoes. Some 70 nations have signed up, but South Korea has previously declined for fear of antagonizing the North.

The PSI made headlines in 2002 when a Spanish ship, acting on information from U.S. intelligence, intercepted a North Korean ship with a load of Scud missiles headed for Yemen.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday threats cited by North Korea for its belligerent policies were either “non-existent or greatly exaggerated.”

It was an unusually blunt statement for the South Korean president, whose government is typically more accommodating toward the North.

Mr. Roh’s policy of trade, tourism and engagement with the North has long been under pressure and his public approval ratings were at an all-time low even before Monday’s test.

Mr. Bush told reporters in Washington: “In order to solve this diplomatically, the United States and our partners must have a strong diplomatic hand. And you have a better diplomatic hand with others, sending the message, than you do when you’re alone.”

Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, Mr. Bush repeatedly sought to reassure North Korea he wanted a peaceful outcome.

“We have no intention of attacking North Korea,” the president said.

On the streets of North Korea’s capital, it seemed like business as usual. Video from Associated Press Television News showed people milling about Kim II-sung Square in Pyongyang and rehearsing a performance for the 80th anniversary of the “Down With Imperialism Union.” The union was an anti-Japanese movement founded at a time when Korea was under Japanese occupation.

North Korea, in its first formal statement since Monday’s blast, warned that it would counter further pressure from the international community with force.

“If the U.S. increases pressure upon [North Korea], persistently doing harm to it, it will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of a war,” said a statement by the North’s Foreign Ministry and carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. It did not say what those measures could be.

North Korea’s No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam threatened in an interview with a Japanese news agency that there would also be more nuclear tests if Washington continued what he called its “hostile attitude.”

Mr. Kim, second to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, told Kyodo news agency that further nuclear testing would hinge on U.S. policy toward his government.

South Korea’s military, meanwhile, was checking its readiness for nuclear attack, Yonhap reported. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended improving the military’s defenses, possibly with state-of-the-art weapons to destroy nuclear missiles, it said.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said Seoul could enlarge its conventional arsenal to deal with a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea.

The top U.S. general in South Korea said that American forces are fully capable of deterring an attack.

“Be assured that the alliance has the forces necessary to deter aggression, and should deterrence fail, decisively defeat any North Korean attack against” South Korea, Army Gen. B.B. Bell said in a statement to troops. “U.S. forces have been well trained to confront nuclear, biological and chemical threats.”

About 29,500 U.S. soldiers are deployed in the South, a remnant of the 1950-53 Korean War.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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