North Korea said today it may pull out of talks with South Korea and again vowed to test-launch a missile, even as Japan strengthened its warnings to North Korea not to fire another rocket over Japanese territory.
Pyongyang said it would test the missile when it is ready, and North Korea's ruling party newspaper said that because of pressure from the United States, "the next war may break out on the Korean peninsula."
Bombast is standard fare for North Korea, but all sides have shown increasing concern recently as North Korea apparently has continued preparations to test a new long-range missile, the Taepodong II. Japan and the United States are particularly alarmed that such a launch would demonstrate a new offensive capability by the Pyongyang government, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry said today that Japan would join Washington and Seoul in issuing a "concrete warning" to North Korea if the launch appeared imminent.
North Korea has said the Taepodong I--which was tested last August and flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean--carried a satellite into orbit. But U.S. analysts have said the Taepodong II could carry a warhead to Hawaii or Alaska, not to mention closer targets such as Japan.
Analysts in Seoul, the South Korean capital, said they still believe North Korea is bluffing in order to get food and other economic assistance, and ultimately will cancel the launch. "They must count the costs and benefits, and they must see that the losses are far greater than the potential gains," said Lho Kyong Soo, professor of international politics at Seoul National University.
North Korea's chief negotiator at the North-South talks in Geneva said "we really don't see any point in coming" back to formal negotiations aimed at bringing a permanent peace to the Korean peninsula. North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan said his comments are "not an ultimatum," but he criticized the United States in the talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States and China.
Chinese ambassador Qian Yongnian read a joint statement at the end of the talks saying that "all parties sharing the value of the four-party talks agreed to arrange the next round as quickly as possible," without saying when the next meeting would take place.
The threat to leave the four-party talks came over the U.S. refusal to discuss withdrawing its 37,000 troops from the South Korean demilitarized zone, where U.S. troops have been on guard since the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim said. His comments came at the end of the sixth session since the talks began in 1997.
The North Korean threat, along with a spike in tensions between China and Taiwan, has cast a pall of tension over a region that had been remarkably calm just months ago. Japan has issued increasingly pointed warnings to North Korea. Last week, Tokyo said it may block remittances from Koreans in Japan to relatives in the cash-strapped North, and said a missile launch might end Japan's food and economic assistance.