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Seoul Pushes `Calm` Response to NK Missile Threat

Posted March. 31, 2009 10:48,   


A few days remain before North Korea’s scheduled testing of a long-range missile (April 4-11), but South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is pushing a calm response.

In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, he said, “I’m against a broader military response to North Korea’s missile test.” His comment suggests his administration believes responses from other nations to the North’s threat are undesirable.

A high-ranking official of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry in Seoul said, “Though the United States and Japan said they might shoot down North Korea’s rocket to protect the lives and safety of their people from North Korea, many have misunderstood that the two nations will shoot down the rocket unconditionally.”

“President Lee talked about our policy to prevent such a misunderstanding from growing into a crisis.”

A spokesman for the North Korean People’s Army general staff said March 9 that if Washington or Tokyo tries to intercept the projectile, Pyongyang will also shoot down rockets shot by the two nations.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang said Thursday that even a United Nations Security Council discussion of a missile launch will rupture the six-way nuclear talks and require strong countermeasures to be taken.

Washington and Seoul, however, have adopted a more moderate response since Pyongyang seeks to raise tension as an excuse to sabotage the six-party talks. A change in the responses of the South Korean and U.S. governments was reflected in President Lee’s comments, which were made shortly after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out U.S. interception of a North Korean rocket.

Nevertheless, Seoul believes it needs to respond if Pyongyang launches a missile. As part of its response, the South will officially join the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and proactively participate in the Security Council’s discussion on imposing sanctions on North Korea.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan implied that a missile launch will incur an international response, saying, “It’s impossible to ignore North Korea’s violation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution. We just need to talk about the level of penalty.”

In his interview with the Financial Times, President Lee said he intends to keep open the Kaesong industrial complex. He also implied, however, that Seoul will impose economic pressure on Pyongyang by saying he needs to rethink additional bilateral cooperation with the North.

Persuading the council to impose sanctions on North Korea will be tough. South Korea thinks it will be difficult to narrow the opinion gap among the five permanent council members since Russia and China oppose a hostile stance against the North.