U.S. VOWS TO DEFEND SOUTH KOREA / NORTH KOREA MISSILES SET TO FIRE


U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY

ASIA-PACIFIC, APRIL 8, 2013 (ALJASEERA) Calling North's nuclear threats "unacceptable", US secretary of state says Washington will defend itself and its ally.

The United States will defend itself and its "treaty ally", South Korea, amid increasingly bellicose threats from the North, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said.

In a show of solidarity, standing side-by-side with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se after talks in Washington, Kerry denounced "unacceptable rhetoric from the North Korean government in the past days".

The North has drawn strong criticism after announcing that it planned to restart its main nuclear complex.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he was "deeply troubled" by Pyongyang's latest threats and that the crisis had "gone too far".

"Things must begin to calm down, there is no need for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to be on a collision course with the international community. Nuclear threats are not a game."

China and other countries also waded in, some offering regret at the news and urging restraint.

"We have noticed the remarks of the DPRK and express our regret," Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. "We call on relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint."

The North has plans to rebuild and restart nuclear facilities including its uranium enrichment facility and the 5 MW Yongbyon reactor which it closed in 2007, the state news agency KCNA said, quoting a spokesman at North Korea's atomic energy agency.

The report said the "readjusting and restarting" of nuclear facilities would be used for electricity shortages and military development.

'Regrettable'

South Korea reacted immediately on Tuesday, with foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tae-young calling the report, if true, "regrettable".

The US has stationed its 154-metre long USS Fitzgerald warship off the Korean Peninsula [US Navy]

He said: "North Korea should keep their promise and agreements and they should keep to denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Our government will closely monitor the situation."

The reactor, closed as part of an international nuclear disarmament deal, was the sole source of plutonium for the North's nuclear weapons programme. The country's remaining plutonium stockpile is believed to be enough for four to eight bombs.

Al Jazeera's Florence Looi, reporting from Seoul, said the "declaration that this plant will resume means that North Korea could be a step closer to plutonium enriched weapons".

The announcement follows weeks of warlike rhetoric from North Korea, including threats to launch nuclear strikes against the US.

The country has also declared that making nuclear arms and a stronger economy are the nation's top priorities.

US defence

Meanwhile, the US has deployed a sophisticated radar off the coast of Japan capable of tracking North Korean missiles and has sent a second destroyer to the region.

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX), which resembles an enormous balloon mounted on a large oil rig, is designed to track ballistic missiles and feed data to a separate command that can fire interceptors.

Pentagon spokesman George Little stressed the deployment of the SBX system had already been scheduled and was not related to the ongoing tensions surrounding North Korea.

Earlier, US officials confirmed that the anti-missile destroyer USS John McCain has been deployed to the region. The Pentagon at first said that a similar type of destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, had been deployed.

Tensions have increased since North Korea launched a long-range rocket in December and followed it with a nuclear test in February.

Subsequent UN sanctions and annual South Korea-US military exercises have been used by Pyongyang to justify a wave of increasingly dire threats against Seoul and Washington, including warnings of missile strikes and nuclear war.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies

N Korea vows to 'strengthen nuclear weapons'


[North Korean leader Kim Jong Un]

North says nuclear armed forces 'should be expanded' and reiterated its atomic weapons are not a bargaining chip.

North Korea has pledged to strengthen its nuclear weapons programme, a day after announcing it is in a "state of war" with South Korea, as the region remains tense amid a military build-up by both North and South Korea.

A meeting on Sunday of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party, headed by leader Kim Jong-Un, decided that the country's possession of nuclear weapons "should be fixed by law", the official KCNA news agency reported without elaborating.

The nuclear armed forces "should be expanded and beefed up qualitatively and quantitatively until the denuclearisation of the world is realised", it added.

Tensions have risen sharply on the peninsula since the UN tightened sanctions in response to the North's nuclear and missile tests, and the US and South Korea carried out military drills near the border with the North .

On Saturday, the North warned South Korea and its close ally US that any provocation would swiftly escalate into an all-out nuclear conflict.

"As of now, inter-Korea relations enter a state of war and all matters between the two Koreas will be handled according to wartime protocol," the North said in a statement carried by the KCNA.

It reiterated that its atomic weapons are not a bargaining chip.

"They are a treasure of a reunified country which can never be traded with billions of dollars," KCNA quoted the central committee members as saying.

The party summit also decided to develop a light water reactor as part of a civilian nuclear power industry to ease electricity shortages, KCNA said.

Technically at war

The North also threatened on Saturday to shut down a joint industrial complex with South Korea, but an official from the South said the complex, which lies inside North Korea, was operating normally on Sunday.

The two Koreas have always technically remained at war because the 1950-53 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

The South Korean government says that its defence drills with the United States were routine, but the North views those drills as rehearsals for an invasion.

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned his forces were ready "to settle accounts with the US" after two American B-2 bombers flew a training mission in South Korea.

The White House said it took the warning from North Korea that it was in a state of war with the South "seriously", but said Pyongyang's threats were following a familiar pattern.

"We've seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea. We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the US National Security Council.

The North had announced earlier this month that it was tearing up the armistice and other bilateral peace pacts signed with the South in protest against South Korea-US joint military exercises.

The armistice was approved by the UN General Assembly, and both the UN and South Korea have repudiated the North's unilateral withdrawal.

The North in 2010 disclosed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility and light water reactor, purportedly to generate power. Experts said it could easily be reconfigured to make fuel for nuclear weapons.

It formally abandoned six-party talks in in April 2009 offering it economic and security benefits in return for denuclearisation. Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies

FROM THE INQUIRER

NoKor missiles set to fire 3:43 am | Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Embassies in Pyongyang told to evacuate


SOUTH OF THE BORDER South Korean soldiers with K-55 self-propelled howitzers train near the border city of Paju as tensions soared with the North Korean threat of nuclear strikes on the South and US territories in the Pacific. The United States said it was taking all precautions against the North Korean threat. AFP

SEOUL—North Korea has moved a second midrange missile to its east coast and loaded it on a mobile launcher, a report said on Friday, fueling fears of an imminent firing that will further ramp up tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yonhap news agency, citing a top South Korean official, said two intermediate Musudan missiles had been transported by train earlier in the week and “loaded on vehicles equipped with launch pads.”

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said earlier that the first missile moved on Thursday could reach a “considerable range” but not the US mainland, telling lawmakers it “could be aimed at test-firing or military drills.”

It was the latest incremental move by North Korea, which, incensed at fresh UN sanctions and South Korea-US military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney said on Thursday the barrage of rhetoric fitted a “regrettable but familiar” pattern of North Korean behavior.

“We’re taking all the necessary precautions,” Carney said, citing “prudent measures” to respond to the possible missile threat.

He said such “action and provocative rhetoric only serve to further isolate North Korea, to harm the North Korean economy, to set back any efforts the North Koreans might want to take toward rejoining the community of nations.”

Carney reiterated, however, that Pyongyang “has a path available to it if it seeks to improve its economy and work toward abiding to its international obligations.”

“Threats and provocative actions will not bring [North Korea] the security, international respect and economic development that it seeks,” Carney said.

“We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations,” he said.

Ballistic range

The Musudan missile has never been tested, but is believed to have a range of around 3,000 kilometers, which could theoretically be pushed to 4,000 with a light payload.

That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even reach US military bases located on the Pacific island of Guam.

The official told Yonhap that the missiles on mobile launchers had since been hidden in special underground facilities.

“The North is apparently intent on firing the missiles without prior warning,” the official said.

The Pentagon has said it will send missile-interceptor batteries to protect its bases on Guam, a US territory some 3,380 kilometers southeast of North Korea and home to 6,000 American military personnel.

Most experts think the North is not yet capable of mounting a nuclear device on a ballistic missile that could strike US bases or territory.

‘Moment of explosion’

On Thursday, the North Korean Army said it had received final approval for military action, possibly involving nuclear weapons, against the threat posed by US B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers participating in joint military drills with South Korea.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” the army’s general staff said.

The blistering rhetoric has stoked international concern, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon describing the daily threats from Pyongyang as “really alarming and troubling.”

“I think they have gone too far in their rhetoric and I am concerned that if by any misjudgment, by any miscalculations… this will have very serious implications,” Ban said.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the threat levels combined with the North’s military capabilities represented a “real and clear danger” to the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan.

There has been speculation that Pyongyang might schedule a firing to coincide with the birthday of the country’s late founder Kim Il-sung in mid-April.

Flight test

A provocative missile test-fired into the sea over Japan is one scenario that analysts have said the North could choose to exit the crisis with a face-saving show of force.

“A flight test would make sense,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert at the International Crisis Group.

“But I’d be surprised if they used an untested missile. At this stage in the game, they don’t want to be firing off something that might disintegrate after 30 seconds,” Pinkston told AFP.

Tensions have soared on the Korean Peninsula since December, when the North test-launched a long-range rocket. In February, it conducted its third nuclear test and drew fresh UN sanctions.

Nuclear reactor

Apart from its threats of nuclear attack, the North also warned this week it would reopen its mothballed Yongbyon reactor—its source of weapons-grade plutonium that was closed in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord.

On Thursday, North Korea blocked access to its Kaesong joint industrial zone with South Korea for the second day running, and threatened to pull out its 53,000 workers in a furious reaction to the South’s airing of a “military” contingency plan to protect its own workers there.

The Unification Ministry said there were still 608 South Korean citizens in Kaesong, which was shut on Friday for a scheduled North Korean holiday.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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