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North Korea Disavows 1953 Armistice, Warns South Korea

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A South Korean news agency is reporting that North Korea has test-fired two short-range missiles from an east coast launch pad. Video by AP

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TOKYO, May 27 -- North Korea announced Wednesday that it is no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, the latest and most profound diplomatic aftershock from the country's latest nuclear test two days earlier.

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North Korea also warned that it would respond "with a powerful military strike" should its ships be stopped by international forces trying to stop the export of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The twin declarations, delivered by the country's state news agency, followed South Korea's announcement Tuesday that it would join the navies that will stop and inspect suspicious ships at sea. North Korea has repeatedly said that such participation would be a "declaration of war."

They followed other developments in North Korea that have added to the sense of jangled nerves across northeast Asia since Monday's underground nuclear test.

The North fired three more short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday, said Yonhap, the South Korean news agency. North Korea had fired two missiles into the same waters on Monday.

And U.S. spy satellites have detected signs that North Korea has restarted its nuclear plant, a South Korean newspaper reported Wednesday. Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed South Korean government source as saying that steam has been detected from a reprocessing facility at North Korea's Yongbyon plant.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke Tuesday to her Russian counterpart as part of an effort to seek a united response with "consequences" for North Korea. But U.S. officials also stressed that they are still eager for North Korea to return to multilateral disarmament talks and are not ready to declare the multi-year effort to end North Korea's nuclear program a failure.

"We feel the door does still remain open, that we're ready to engage," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. He described the Obama administration's effort now as trying to "bring international pressure to bear to get them to reverse their course."

In Tokyo, a former defense minister and ruling party lawmaker said Japan should consider developing the ability to conduct preemptive strikes against North Korea, even though Japan's constitution prohibits it from taking offensive military action.

South Korea had long resisted U.S. pressure to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which was created in 2003 by President George W. Bush and includes more than 90 countries that have agreed to stop and inspect suspicious cargo on sea and land.

Seoul was reluctant to rile North Korea, but North Korea's second nuclear test nudged Seoul Korea to change its policy.

North Korea has long been suspected of shipping or flying missiles to customers in the Middle East and South Asia.


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