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Seoul warns N. Korea of 'grave consequences'
Publication Date : 01-02-2013
President Lee convenes top security meeting over possible N. Korea nuclear test, orders to bolster border security
Seoul is considering pushing for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang in tandem with the US, China and Japan, officials said Thursday, warning of “grave consequences” for its possible third nuclear test.
A senior Seoul official said “all possible options will be on the table,” but remained reluctant to touch on a military option, stressing that consultation with the concerned countries was under way.
President Lee Myung-bak instructed Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin to ensure the top readiness posture, noting that the North was ratcheting up military tension on the peninsula at a time of a power transition in Seoul.
Lee and senior officials in charge of security and foreign affairs met earlier in the day to explore punitive sanctions in the event of an atomic test and ways to address public anxiety over it.
“The (Seoul) government urges North Korea to stop all provocative speeches and abide by international obligations, including those stipulated in UN Security Council resolutions,” said Cheong Wa Dae in a statement issued after the top security meeting.
“We warn that should the North make another provocation based on its misjudgement of the situation, it will face grave consequences.”
While mobilising key intelligence assets to monitor the North, the South Korean military raised its readiness posture one notch and readied all frontline units, including naval forces operating near the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border, for possible provocations.
The defence chief inspected an army unit near the tense inter-Korean border, ordering the military to keep high vigilance.
“It is crucial to let the enemy know our strong posture and principle that we automatically strike back sufficiently and accurately at the origin of the provocation,” Defence Minister Kim said during the inspection.
Seoul officials believe that the North has already completed all necessary preparations to conduct a nuclear test at anytime at the Punggye-ri test site in the country’s northeast, where it carried out two atomic tests in 2006 and 2009. They said that conducting the test would be a “political” decision, not a technical or military one.
Sanctions that could be applied to punish another North Korean provocation are expected to be far tougher than those in the UN Security Council 2087 adopted last week to condemn the North’s December rocket launch.
Some predict that Seoul, Washington and Tokyo could adopt other tough sanctions as opposed to much-discussed sanctions such as the freeze of North Korea’s overseas financial assets and the interception of suspicious North Korean vessels.
“The UNSC Resolution 2087 stipulates that ‘significant action’ will be taken in case of an additional provocation. We urge North Korea not to take such a message lightly but carefully listen to it,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young said during a regular briefing.
Observers said that as Seoul will take the rotating UNSC chairmanship on February 1 for a month, its push for more stringent punishment could gain momentum.
“The chairmanship allows the country to set the agenda and convene a meeting even in the wee hours (of the morning) should there be an emergency case,” said a senior government official, on condition of anonymity.
Explaining that the North completed all technical preparations for another underground test, the official said that Pyongyang may have a set of motives behind it including strengthening unity among its people and troops.
He also said that Pyongyang might not regard the recent international sanctions against it as that strong as it is already under long-standing global sanctions due to its missile and nuclear development activities.
As it is aware of the serious ramifications of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, China may be more willing to support tougher international sanctions, experts forecast.
A nuclear-armed North Korea would make China lose its exclusive status as a nuclear-power in the region and could spark a nuclear arms race among regional players including Japan, experts said.
Nuclear experts said that Pyongyang could conduct multiple nuclear tests at once, using highly enriched uranium. The test would likely focus on enhancing the nuclear warhead’s explosive power and its miniaturisation, they said.