- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

President Obama said the U.S. is ready to cope with “any contingencies” involving North Korea and vowed not to “reward belligerence and provocation.”

South Korea’s YTN news network reported that a U.S. Navy destroyer was tailing a North Korean ship suspected of carrying missiles and related parts toward Myanmar in what could be the first test of new U.N. sanctions, imposed after the North’s recent nuclear test. The sanctions toughen an earlier arms embargo against North Korea and authorize ship searches in an attempt to thwart its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have spiked since North Korea defiantly conducted its second nuclear explosion on May 25. It later declared that it would expand its atomic bomb program and threatened war to protest the U.N. sanctions.

On Monday, the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said it is “nonsense” to say the country threatens the U.S. and claimed that Washington threatens the North. The paper also warned that the country is prepared to strike back if attacked.

“As long as our country has become a proud nuclear power, the U.S. should take a correct look at whom it is dealing with,” the paper said. “It would be a grave mistake for the U.S. to think it can remain unhurt if it ignites the fuse of war on the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea says its nuclear program is a deterrent against the U.S., which it routinely accuses of plotting to topple its communist regime. The U.S., which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, has repeatedly said it has no such intention and has no nuclear weapons there.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. is prepared for any North Korean provocation, including the regime’s reported threat to test-launch a long-range missile toward Hawaii.

Japanese media have reported that the North Koreans appear to be preparing for a long-range test, likely close to July 4. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered additional protections for Hawaii in case a missile is launched over the Pacific Ocean.

“This administration and our military is fully prepared for any contingencies,” Mr. Obama said Friday during an interview with CBS News’ Harry Smith, to be broadcast Monday on “The Early Show.”

“I don’t want to speculate on hypotheticals,” Mr. Obama said in the interview, released Sunday. “But I want to give assurances to the American people that the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted in terms of what might happen.”

The North Korean cargo ship, Kang Nam, is expected to travel to Myanmar via Singapore, YTN said, citing an unidentified intelligence source in the South. Singapore has said it would inspect the ship if it stops there.

Myanmar’s military government, which faces an arms embargo from the United States and the European Union, has reportedly bought weapons from the North. The ship is reportedly the first North Korean vessel to be tracked under the new U.N. sanctions.

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