- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea warned Wednesday of a “thousand-fold” military retaliation against the U.S. and its allies if provoked, the latest threat in a drumbeat of rhetoric in defense of its rogue nuclear program.

Japanese and South Korean news reports said North Korea is preparing an additional site for test-firing a long-range missile that experts say could be capable of striking the United States. Russia’s deputy defense minister reportedly said it would shoot down any missile headed its way.

The warning of a military strike, carried by the North’s state media, came hours after President Barack Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world and pledged that recent U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.

Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington Tuesday for a landmark summit in which the two leaders agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang claims its nuclear bombs are a deterrent against the United States and accuses Washington of plotting with Seoul to topple its secretive regime — led by the unpredictable dictator Kim Jong Il who is reportedly preparing to hand over power to his 26-year-old youngest son.

“If the U.S. and its followers infringe upon our republic’s sovereignty even a bit, our military and people will launch a one hundred- or one thousand-fold retaliation with merciless military strike,” the government-run Minju Joson newspaper said in a commentary.

The commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, also called Obama “a hypocrite” for advocating a nuclear-free world while making “frantic efforts” to develop new nuclear weapons at home.

“The nuclear program is not the monopoly of the U.S.,” it said.

The report did not mention the Obama-Lee summit.

Attention has been focused on North Korea since it conducted a nuclear test, its second, on May 25 in defiance of the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council responded by toughening an arms embargo, authorizing ship searches for nuclear and ballistic missile cargo and depriving the regime of the financing used to build its nuclear program.

South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday that the North has begun withdrawing money from its bank accounts in the Chinese territory of Macau and elsewhere, for fear they would be frozen under the U.N. sanctions.

But Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at South Korea’s Kyungnam University and an expert on North Korea, cast doubt on the report. He said the North likely had decreased its exposure to banks in Macau sharply after its funds were previously frozen there under U.S. sanctions.

“They know how to keep and secure their money,” Lim said, adding that North Korea can effectively hide funds in accounts in mainland China opened in the name of third parties such as local Chinese companies and ethnic Korean Chinese citizens.

Separately, Japan’s Sankei newspaper said Wednesday that the North has been showing signs of preparing two sites — the Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast and the Musudan-ni site on the northeastern coast — from where a long-range missile could be launched.

It was earlier thought that any launch would come only from the northwest.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper also carried a similar report Wednesday, quoting an unidentified government official as saying that a special train that carried a long-range missile to the northwestern site has recently moved to the northeastern site.

But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea has been running an empty cargo train from a weapons factory to the two sites.

Yonhap quoted an unnamed government official as saying the movement is aimed at “confusing” foreign intelligence agencies.

Still, Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul, said the possibility of the North conducting a long-range missile test is high unless tension with the U.S. “is dramatically reduced.”

In Moscow, the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Popovkin as saying that if a North Korean missile comes toward Russia “we will see it and shoot it down.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, Finance Ministry, Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service said they could not confirm the reports on money withdrawals or on the missiles, which ostensibly can carry a nuclear warhead. It remains unclear whether they have developed a nuclear device small enough to be carried on a missile.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. It revealed last week that it is also producing enriched uranium. The two materials are key ingredients for making atomic bombs.

Some analysts believe that the North’s rhetoric is aimed at showing people at home that their government can defy the powerful U.S., and eventually to give credit for it to Kim’s reported heir apparent, Kim Jong Un. The analysts say this would make Jong Un’s ascent to the top acceptable to the North Koreans.

Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa in Tokyo and Kelly Olsen in Seoul contributed to this report.

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