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North Korea Warns ‘Sanctions Mean a War’

By Peter S. Goodman, Washington Post, Tuesday 7 January 2003; 10:52 AM

SEOUL, January 7—North Korea today issued a warning of unrestrained war in the event that the United States and its allies impose economic sanctions to force the isolated country to halt work at a nuclear reactor capable of producing atomic weapons.

Sanctions mean a war, North Korea declared in a statement released by its official Korean Central News Agency. The war knows no mercy.

North Korea also angrily rejected claims that its sales of missiles around the world amount to a threat to peace. The United States tops the world’s list in producing and selling the weapons of mass destruction, the statement said.

North Korea’s latest rhetorical assault came a day after the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, offered the country what it characterized as a final chance to allow the return of its inspectors to the reactor site or face the prospect of action from the U.N. Security Council. The Bush administration has suggested that the matter could be best handled by the Security Council, which could impose consequences ranging from economic sanctions to military force.

South Korean envoys today continued meetings in Washington with United States and Japanese officials to discuss their response to the crisis. Meanwhile, South Korea’s National security adviser, Yim Sung Joon, was scheduled to meet with his United States counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, and other White House officials.

Diplomats here have anticipated that Yim would present the Bush administration with a compromise plan aimed at persuading North Korea to reverse course in exchange for security assurances from the United States. But, before departing, Yim told reporters that his discussions would involve setting a broad framework of methodology rather than looking for a specific solution.

The Bush administration has refused to negotiate with North Korea, lest it reward what it portrays as nuclear blackmail. But South Korea—which has pursued a policy of engagement and reconciliation with the North—is eager to broker a compromise through dialogue and has deployed envoys around the region to press for one.

Last week, South Korea sent officials to talk with counterparts in Beijing and Moscow. On Friday, a South Korean is scheduled to visit Tokyo for similar talks with the Japanese government. The following week U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is expected to visit the South Korean capital.

Many analysts assume North Korea’s primary motivation in reviving its Yongbyon nuclear reactor is economic: Desperately poor and increasingly isolated, it hopes to generate a crisis that will force the United States to offer concessions, including the resumption of fuel oil shipments that were halted by the Bush administration following disclosures in October that North Korea has been secretly developing uranium-enriched weapons.

North Korea is also keenly interested in safeguarding a lucrative trade in missiles and technology that appeared threatened when President Bush labeled the country as part of an axis of evil, along with Iraq and Iran, analysts said. North Korea earns as much as $580 million a year—or about one-third of its export income—selling missiles and technology to other countries, according to Kim Taewoo, an arms control expert at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.

Today’s North Korean statement lent credence to the notion that protecting its missile sales is a significant part of its interest in pursuing its confrontation with the United States. In the statement, North Korea demanded that the United States apologize for last month seizing a North Korean ship carrying Scud missiles to Yemen. The statement termed that episode an act of piracy and cited as an example of a United States strategy that seeks to impose total economic sanctions aimed at isolating and stifling North Korea.

The North Korean ship was seized in the Arabian Sea by United States and Spanish forces. They later allowed it to continue on its way after receiving assurances from Yemen that the missiles would not be transferred elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region.

Also today, according to a report from North Korea’s state press that could not be independently confirmed, about 100,000 people turned out in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for a Communist Party rally at which they were urged to give top priority to military affairs as the maxim of their life.