Py­ongyang claims right to at­tack U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Andrew Salmon

SEOUL — North Korea said on Aug. 22 that it re­serves the right to makea“pre-emp­tive” at­tack on U.S. andSouthKorean tar­gets, a chill­ing re­minder of threats by Py­ongyang a decade ago to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

North Korea, which says it has nu­clear weapons, also called the an­nual U.S.-South Korea “Ulchi Fo­cus Lens” ex­er­cise “an undis­guised mil­i­tary threat” and a “war ac­tion.”

In a state­ment car­ried by Py­ongyang’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency, the North Korean mil­i­tary said it “re­serves the right to un­der­take a pre-emp­tive ac­tion for self-de­fense against the en­emy at a cru­cial time it deems nec­es­sary to de­fend it­self.”

North Korea is known for its rhetor­i­cal blasts. The most no­table came dur­ing a 1994 cri­sis over NorthKorean at­tempts to make nu­clear bombs, in which a se­nior offi- cial threat­ened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

The U.S.-South Korean war games be­gan Aug. 21.

United States Forces Korea says the ex­er­cise is a “com­mand-post ex­er­cise,” us­ing com­puter sim­u­la­tion as well as troops on the ground. It in­volves 17,000 per­son­nel.

The op­er­a­tional “Team Spirit” joint ex­er­cise, which fielded 200,000 troops, was last held in 1993.

Though Py­ongyang ha­bit­u­ally slams an­nual U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, the Aug. 22 warn­ing ratch­ets up ten­sions at a time when North­east Asia is jit­tery over North Korea.

In July, the North con­ducted a se­ries of mis­sile tests and con­tin­ues to boy­cott six-na­tion talks aimed at per­suad­ing Py­ongyang to halt and dis­man­tle its nu­cle­ar­weapons pro­grams.

ABC News, cit­ing U.S. of­fi­cials, re­ported two weeks ago that the North may be pre­par­ing a nu­clear test. Ja­panese and South Korean intelligence of­fi­cials have said they have seen signs of an im­pend­ing test.

The state­ment by the North Kore­an­newsagency also de­clared the ar­mistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War “null and void.”

One of Py­ongyang’s long-stand­ing pol­icy aims has been the re­place­ment of the ar­mistice with a peace treaty.

The lat­ter would call into ques­tion the con­tin­ued pres­ence of U.S. troops on the Korean Penin­sula — troops the North rou­tinely claims are pre­par­ing to in­vade.

NorthKore­a­has sought for years to pry Seoul away from its al­liance with Wash­ing­to­nand to re­move U.S. troops from the South.

“The head-in-the-sand brigade in the South will say, ‘Yeah, North Korea’s weapons are just pointed at U.S. bases,’ ” said MichaelBreen,the Seoul-based au­thor of “Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.”

“It is sig­nif­i­cant that South Kore­ans are no longer united in an­i­mos­ity to­ward North Korea — as they used to be,” Mr. Breen said.

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