Defiant N. Korea Vows to Confront U.S.
Wed Jan 1,10:05 AM ET
By PAUL SHIN, Associated Press Writer
SEOUL, South Korea - Showing no willingness to ease tensions over its nuclear weapons program, North Korea (news - web sites) vowed Wednesday to build an army-based "powerful nation" and defy pressure from the United States.
North Korea said it fears a possible U.S. military attack, but President Bush (news - web sites) said he was confident the North's nuclear issue can be resolved through diplomacy.
"This is not a military showdown. This is a diplomatic showdown," Bush said Tuesday.
North Korea, in its New Year's Day message, called on its people to unite under "the banner of the army-based policy" and build a "powerful nation" to counter a possible U.S. invasion. The reality is that North Korea is impoverished and dependent on outside food aid, much of it supplied by the United States via the U.N. World Food Program.
"The United States is now becoming all the more frantic in its moves to stifle (North Korea), openly clamoring about a preemptive nuclear attack on it," said the message, carried on the country's foreign news outlet, Korean Central News Agency.
The English-language message did not mention rising international concern over Pyongyang's decision to reactivate its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, but stressed the importance of uniting around the country's military.
In an apparent effort to take advantage of an upsurge in anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea (news - web sites), the message urged "all the Koreans in the North and the South and abroad" to join in confronting the United States.
"It can be said that there exists on the Korean Peninsula at present only confrontation between the Koreans in the North and the South and the United States," it said.
U.S. and South Korean officials say their alliance is strong, though North Korea often has tried to drive a wedge between them.
Some South Koreans worry that the nuclear dispute could trigger armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the world's last Cold War frontier. More than 2 million troops are massed on both sides of the Korean border, while about 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who won a Dec. 19 vote partly because of surging anti-U.S. sentiment among his people, on Tuesday warned against "blindly following U.S. policy."
"The United States should consult fully with South Korea, rather than making a decision unilaterally and then expecting South Korea to follow it," said Roh, who begins a five-year term in February.
Roh supports outgoing President Kim Dae-jung (news - web sites)'s "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea. They believe dialogue is the only viable way to resolve the North's nuclear issue peacefully.
South Korea sent a senior diplomat to Beijing on Wednesday to try to win Chinese support in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Lee Tae-sik, South Korea's deputy foreign minister, will meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Thursday, South Korean officials said.
U.S. and South Korean deny a rift is developing between the two close allies over the nuclear dispute.
But in the past two days, both Roh and Kim have expressed concern that Washington might impose heavy economic pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions, and this could backfire and harden the North's stance.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said, "I don't think anybody has suggested at this point imposing sanctions."
Anti-U.S. sentiment was evident on the streets of Seoul on New Year's Eve, when about 22,000 South Koreans gathered near the U.S. Embassy to protest the deaths of two teenage girls accidentally killed in June by a U.S. military vehicle.
Two U.S. soldiers whose vehicle killed the girls were cleared of negligent homicide charges in U.S. military courts last month.
Some protesters shouted for an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea.
Tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions intensified Tuesday when Pyongyang expelled two U.N. inspectors monitoring its nuclear facilities and signaled it might pull out of the global nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
North Korea's ambassador to Moscow, Pak Ui Chun, told Russian news media Tuesday that his country intends to free itself from its last legal obligations under the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which seeks to confine nuclear weapons to the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.
In recent weeks, North Korea removed monitoring seals and cameras from nuclear facilities at Yongbyon that were frozen under a 1994 deal with the United States. It says it is willing to resolve concerns over its nuclear program if the United States signs a nonaggression treaty, but Washington rules out any talks before the North changes course.