Seoul Joins Effort to Help Block Aggression by North Korea

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 27, 2009; 9:59 AM

TOKYO, May 27 -- Diplomatic aftershocks from North Korea's latest nuclear test are jangling nerves and changing policies across northeast Asia.

Affronted by Monday's test, South Korea announced Tuesday that it will join a U.S.-led effort to intercept suspicious ships at sea in an effort to stop countries such as North Korea from exporting missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

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

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.

"Our army and people are fully ready for battle . . . against any reckless U.S. attempt for a pre-emptive attack," the North's news agency said Tuesday.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke 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.

North Korea is thought to possess more than 200 mid-range Nodong missiles that can strike nearly any part of Japan. The Japanese government, which has invested billions of dollars in a U.S.-made antimissile defense system, is concerned that the North is making progress in designing nuclear warheads that could fit atop its missiles.

"We must look at active missile defense such as attacking an enemy's territory and bases," the former defense minister, Gen Nakatani, said at a meeting of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In China, where condemnation of the North's nuclear test was surprisingly swift and unambiguous, the state media on Tuesday printed strong reprimands of North Korea from other countries. The shower of criticism was far different from the reaction to North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, when the Chinese media blamed the United States for provoking Pyongyang by cutting off aid.

"This may well be a reflection of Beijing's frustrations for not being able to assert control and influence over North Korea," said Wenran Jiang, research chair of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company