Sunday 18 February 2018

North Korea 'highly likely to attack South Korea again

Peter Foster

North Korea is highly likely to attack the South again, according to South Korea's intelligence chief, a week after Pyongyang fired a barrage of artillery shells at a South Korean island.

"There is a high possiblity that the North will make another attack," Won Sei-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, told a parliamentary committee meeting, according to Yonhap news agency.

The latest attack came as "internal complaints are growing about the North's succession for a third generation, and its economic situation is worsening", he said.

His warning came as the US wrapped up its war games off the Korean peninsula on Wednesday. China continued to push for a resumption of the Six Party talks that would see North Korea receive economic aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament.

The four-day joint exercises involving the US supercarrier George Washington were designed as a show of deterrent force to the regime of Kim Jong-il following the shelling of a South Korean village a week ago that killed four.

The exercises, which were opposed by China as an unnecessary provocation, passed off without further incident, but tensions between North and South Korea remain high.

As the George Washington steamed out of the Yellow Sea, South Korea immediately announced live-fire naval exercises from 29 sites next week, as well as reports that it was deploying short-range surface-to-air missiles in Yeonpyeong, the island attacked by the North's artillery.

North Korea's latest provocation, coming weeks after it revealed a new uranium enrichment program, has revealed stark divisions within the international community over how best to deal with the regime in Pyongyang.

China has repeatedly called for a resumption of the stalled Six Party talks with China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi saying on Wednesday that all parties must avoid actions that "inflame the situation", according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"The parties concerned should keep calm and exercise restraint, and work to bring the situation back onto the track of dialogue and negotiation," the agency quoted Mr Yang as saying.

However Chinese overtures on the North's behalf have been firmly rejected by the US and its allies, Japan and South Korea, who say that resuming talks so soon would reward Pyongyang's attempts to bully the international community back to the table by use of force.

In a visible sign of the divisions, the US, Japan and South Korea will meet for talks on the crisis in Washington – not Beijing – next week, while China has invited two senior North Korean envoys to Beijing for talks this week.

The differences were also highlighted at the UN headquarters in New York where diplomats said that British and French efforts to censure Pyongyang for its artillery assault have been blocked by China.

"Against the wishes of the vast majority of the Security Council members, China is blocking any action on the uranium enrichment plant and there is not much hope of any talk about the attack," a diplomat told the AFP news agency.

"It [China] says it is unacceptable to condemn or even express concern over North Korea. Council talks have come to a standstill. It is now very likely that the Security Council will do nothing about North Korea," the diplomat added.

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