South Korea and
the United States have raised their defense alert levels on the Korean
peninsula, a day after the North said it was willing to discard the 56-year-old
armistice that paused the Korean War. Analysts expect more tension in the days
South Korea and the United States boosted
defense alert conditions to the second highest in a five-level structure,
Won Tae-jae, a spokesman for
the South Korean Defense Ministry, says the two
militaries are devoting more personnel to intelligence gathering and analysis,
including aviation and reconnaissance. He says South Korea and the United States
will cooperate in keeping a watch over North Korea's movements.Nuclear tests sparked tensions
This week has marked a
dramatic, day-by-day escalation in security tensions on the divided peninsula.
On Monday, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test, apparently with more
explosive power than its 2006 test. On Tuesday, South Korea confirmed its full
participation in a U.S.-led campaign to disrupt the transport of nuclear and
other weapons. Pyongyang responded Wednesday by describing the South's decision
as a "declaration of war," and warned it would not be bound to the 1953 Korean
War Armistice if the United States or South Korea approached any of its ships.
The U.S.-led United Nations Command issued a statement Thursday
saying the armistice "has served as the legal basis for the ceasefire in Korea
for over 55 years", and that it "remains in force and is binding on all
signatories, including North Korea."Keeping a close eye
An especially close eye is
being kept on waters west of the Korean peninsula, where North Korea warned
Tuesday it would be unable to guarantee the safety of U.S. and South Korean
vessels. Pyongyang has never accepted the United Nations-drawn maritime border
in that region, and the two Koreas have fought two deadly naval skirmishes there
in the past ten years.
South Korea is cooperating
closely with the United States, China and Russia and Japan in crafting a new
United Nations Security Council resolution including new economic sanctions
against North Korea.Analyst predicts
Tanaka Hitoshi, a former Japanese government official, is a
senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange. He says more
tension lies ahead.
"North Korea is pursuing some
kind of escalation policy and we are bound to respond to it," he said. "And
North Korea will undoubtedly react to it... So, there is going to be a crisis."
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told lawmakers
Thursday his government is urging the United States to return North Korea to a
State Department list of nations accused of sponsoring terrorism. Washington
took the North off that list as part of multinational diplomacy to end its
nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the talks earlier this month.