NKorea warns region is on brink of war

North Korea warned Friday that U.S.-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within sight of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.

The fresh artillery blasts were especially defiant because they came as the U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, toured the South Korean island to survey damage from Tuesday’s hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.

None of the latest rounds hit the South’s territory, and U.S. military officials said Sharp did not even hear the concussions, though residents on other parts of the island panicked and ran back to the air raid shelters where they huddled earlier in the week as white smoke rose from North Korean territory.

Tensions have soared between the Koreas since the North’s strike Tuesday destroyed large parts of this island, killing two civilians as well as two marines in a major escalation of their sporadic skirmishes along the sea border.

The attack – eight months after a torpedo sank a South Korean warship further west, killing 46 sailors – has also laid bare weaknesses in South Korea’s defense 60 years after the Korean War. The skirmish forced South Korea’s beleaguered defense minister to resign Thursday, and President Lee Myung-bak on Friday named a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the post.

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Inviting War

By: Oliver North

WASHINGTON — Sixty years ago this month, the North Korean People’s Army, enticed by the Truman administration’s announcement that Korea was no longer within the “U.S. defensive perimeter,” launched a surprise attack across the 38th parallel — the arbitrary demarcation line drawn by the United Nations between the Republic of Korea and the communist north, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The onslaught was so successful that in a matter of just three days, Seoul was captured and the poorly trained and equipped ROK military was smashed. Hundreds of American advisers and hastily deployed reinforcements were killed, captured or listed as missing in action. By mid-July, the remnants of U.S. and ROK forces were driven into a tiny defensive perimeter around the port of Pusan.

Three years and more than 150,000 American casualties later, an armistice ended the fighting — but not the war. Ever since, American national security policy has been based on the idea that attacks against the U.S. homeland, our national interests and our allies could be prevented by “containing communism” and maintaining sufficient nuclear and conventional forces to deter aggression. American intelligence capabilities were focused on knowing what our adversaries were up to and sharing that information with our allies. Until Jimmy Carter came along, it was a strategy that generally worked.

Carter decided — and Congress agreed — to gut U.S. defense and intelligence budgets, dramatically reduce the U.S. military presence in the Republic of Korea and replace deterrence with “diplomatic engagement.” America’s adversaries wasted no time in taking advantage of his perceived naivet? and weakness. Though the U.S. withdrawal from South Korea was stopped thanks to a major political movement launched by World War II hero Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub, other American allies weren’t so fortunate.

While Americans here at home were distracted by economic woes that included double-digit inflation and interest rates, Panama, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and eventually Afghanistan all succumbed to “revolutionary” regimes or outright invasion during Carter’s mercifully brief tenure as commander in chief. He used the threat of reduced arms sales and aid for Israel to initiate the novel concept of a “Palestinian homeland” during negotiations for a peace treaty with Egypt.

Though Ronald Reagan restored the idea of “peace through strength” and carried out his promise to confront Soviet expansion, we still are paying the price for the Carter administration’s ineptness and misfeasance. The undetected nuclear weapons programs in both North Korea and Iran trace their lineage to Carter’s intelligence cuts. As a consequence, two of America’s most steadfast allies — Israel and the Republic of Korea — now face the clear and present danger of existential annihilation. Both democracies are literally under the gun — and getting little but platitudes or worse from the Obama administration.

After the Cheonan, an ROK navy patrol boat, blew up in international waters, killing 46 sailors March 26, Seoul’s military — as our mutual defense treaty requires — turned to the U.S. for advice on how to respond. The O-Team counseled caution — urging the South Koreans to invite an “international committee” to conduct a “fair, impartial and transparent investigation” to determine what happened. They did — and the panel found overwhelming evidence that the Cheonan had been sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. The Obama administration’s response to this overt act of war: to refer the matter to the United Nations. In Pyongyang, the brutal regime that has starved its people to build nuclear weapons now promises “total war.”

It’s even worse for Israel — abandoned by the Obama administration and beleaguered by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon’s detonating on Tel Aviv, renewed rocket attacks on civilians from Iranian-supplied Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and a rearmed, Iranian-supplied Hezbollah terror movement in southern Lebanon. Last week’s flawed effort by Israel Defense Forces to inspect a so-called “humanitarian aid flotilla” for weapons and military equipment has resulted in international opprobrium because nine “activists” aboard the vessels were killed. The O-Team’s response: to demand that the United Nations conduct a “fair, impartial and transparent investigation.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to be thankful no one insisted on a U.N. investigation after more than 70 were killed in Waco, Texas, in April 1993.

Americans once again are distracted by economic woes and a Gulf oil spill. The U.S. intelligence community is leaderless and in nearly total disarray. Our southern border is an open passage for unlawful entry at best — and a virtual invasion path for well-armed enemies at worst. The Iranian regime, having brutally suppressed its internal opposition, overtly is arming Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaida while racing to acquire nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. The vicious despots running North Korea — having escaped any retribution for repeated violations of international law — commit an act of war, and the U.S. backs down. Meanwhile the Obama administration is intent on turning the U.S. military, already engaged in a two-front war, into a laboratory for radical social experiments. Even Jimmy Carter didn’t try that.

Beating Up on Israel

BY DANIEL HENNINGER

The ease with which the world’s governments condemned Israel over the flotilla incident has been something to behold. The Jerusalem-based correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail could not help but notice: “The speed and intensity with which governments around the world condemned the Israeli behavior appear unprecedented.” Why?

For starters, denouncing Israel for something like this is convenient for leaders who have failed repeatedly to do anything about more important and difficult problems such as Iran, North Korea or sovereign debt. Also, lesser nations learn by example: The Obama administration’s unrestrained criticism of the Israeli government in March over …

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U.S. Implicates North Korean Leader in Attack

By DAVID E. SANGER

WASHINGTON — A new American intelligence analysis of a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship concludes that Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault, according to senior American officials who cautioned that the assessment was based on their sense of the political dynamics there rather than hard evidence.

The officials said they were increasingly convinced that Mr. Kim ordered the sinking of the ship, the Cheonan, to help secure the succession of his youngest son.

“We can’t say it is established fact,” said one senior American official who was involved in the highly classified assessment, based on information collected by many of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. “But there is very little doubt, based on what we know about the current state of the North Korean leadership and the military.”

Nonetheless, both the conclusion and the timing of the assessment could be useful to the United States as it seeks to rally support against North Korea.

On Monday, South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, who has moved cautiously since the assault, is expected to call for the United Nations Security Council to condemn the attack and is likely to terminate the few remaining trade ties between North and South that provide the North with hard currency.

But those steps have little chance of proving meaningful unless China, which hosted Mr. Kim two weeks ago, agrees to join the condemnation and refuses to make up whatever revenue North Korea loses from any trade embargoes. China, North Korea’s last true ally, has traditionally been reluctant to pressure the North too much, even when the North Koreans conducted nuclear tests, for fear of toppling the government and sending a flood of refugees across its border.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will be in Beijing when the South Korean action is announced, leading a delegation of 200 American officials, including roughly half of the Obama administration’s cabinet, in an annual “strategic dialogue” with Chinese leaders on a variety of economic and political issues.

So far, at least in public, both American and South Korean leaders have been careful never to link Mr. Kim to the sinking of the Cheonan in March, which killed 46 sailors. Officials said that was in part because of the absence of hard evidence — difficult to come by in the rigidly controlled North — but also largely because both countries were trying to avoid playing into Mr. Kim’s hands by casting one of the worst attacks since the 1953 armistice as another piece of lore about the Kim family taking on South Korea and the West.

The North’s state propaganda surrounding that imagery has been used by the Kim family to sustain two generations of leaders since the end of World War II. Under the leading theory of the American intelligence agencies, Mr. Kim ordered the attack to re-establish both his control and his credentials after a debilitating stroke two years ago, and by extension reinforcing his right to name his son Kim Jong-un as his successor.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the attack, despite the presentation of forensic evidence on Thursday — including parts of the torpedo found in the wreckage — that experts from three countries said established that the torpedo was launched from a North Korean submarine.

Although the American officials who spoke about the intelligence assessment would not reveal much about what led them to conclude that Mr. Kim was directly involved, one factor appeared to be intelligence that he appeared on April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, with a military unit that intelligence agencies believe to have been responsible for the attack.

Mr. Kim used the event to praise the group, Unit 586, the officials said, and around that time a fourth star appears to have been given to Gen. Kim Myong-guk, who officials believe may have played a crucial role in executing the attack. General Kim is believed to have been demoted to a three-star general last year, perhaps in response to the humiliation that took place after a North Korean ship ventured into South Korean waters. The North Korean ship was all but destroyed, and some analysts believe the attack on the Cheonan, which was in South Korean waters, was planned as retribution.

“Nobody is going to take overt credit for the sinking,” said Jonathan Pollack, a professor at the Naval War College and an expert on North Korea’s military. “But Kim’s visit to this unit has all the hallmarks of congratulating them for a job well done.”

The senior American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the intelligence assessment is classified, said they ruled out the idea that General Kim or another military officer decided on his own to attack, but they did not explain how they reached that conclusion.

Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former official in the National Security Council during President George W. Bush’s second term in office, noted that when Mr. Kim was on the rise three decades ago, “there were similar incidents designed to build his credibility” as a leader.

The Cheonan episode has posed some difficult choices for the Obama administration at a time when its national security team is preoccupied with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

In an intense series of back-channel discussions with Mr. Lee, senior administration officials, including President Obama, have praised South Korea for its calm response. Like the South Koreans, American officials fear that any military retaliation against the North could quickly escalate, leading to rocket attacks on Seoul, major casualties and a panic among investors in South Korea. At the same time, they worry that if North Korea gets through the episode without paying a price — one that American officials decline to define — it could embolden the North Korean military.

The North Korean defense commission, which rarely issues public statements, turned out a fiery-sounding warning last week, saying it would respond to any military retaliation with “all-out war.”

NKorea warns of war if punished for ship sinking

By JEAN H. LEE and HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Tensions deepened Thursday on the Korean peninsula as South Korea accused North Korea of firing a torpedo that sank a naval warship, killing 46 sailors in the country’s worst military disaster since the Korean War.

President Lee Myung-bak vowed “stern action” for the provocation following the release of long-awaited results from a multinational investigation into the March 26 sinking near the Koreas’ tense maritime border. North Korea, reacting swiftly, called the results a fabrication, and warned that any retaliation would trigger war. It continued to deny involvement in the sinking of the warship Cheonan.

“If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us …. we will answer to this with all-out war,” Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea’s navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

An international civilian-military investigation team said evidence overwhelmingly proves a North Korean submarine fired a homing torpedo that caused a massive underwater blast that tore the Cheonan apart. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the frigid Yellow Sea waters, but 46 perished.

Since the 1950-53 war on the Korean peninsula ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas remain locked in a state of war and divided by the world’s most heavily armed border.

The truce prevents Seoul from waging a unilateral military attack.

However, South Korea and the U.S., which has 28,500 troops on the peninsula, could hold joint military exercises in a show of force, said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

South Korean and U.S. officials also said they are considering a variety of options in response to the warship’s sinking, ranging from U.N. Security Council action to additional U.S. penalties.

The exchange of war rhetoric raised tensions, but the isolated communist regime – already under international pressure to cease its nuclear weapons program – often warns of dire consequences against South Korea or Washington for any punitive steps against it. Its large but decrepit military would be no match for U.S. and Korean forces.

The impoverished country is already chafing from international sanctions tightened last year in the wake of widely condemned nuclear and missile tests. U.N. sanctions currently block funding to certain officials and companies, while North Korea is barred from exporting weapons and countries are authorized to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying illicit cargo.

South Korea “will take resolute countermeasures against North Korea and make it admit its wrongdoings through strong international cooperation,” Lee said during a call with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the presidential office said. Lee convened an emergency meeting for Friday.

The White House called the sinking an unacceptable “act of aggression” that violates international law and the 1953 truce. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama declared his support for South Korea, calling North Korea’s actions “inexcusable.”

China, North Korea’s traditional ally, called the sinking of the naval ship “unfortunate” but stopped short of backing Seoul.

Pyongyang continued its steadfast denials of involvement in the sinking.

“Our Korean People’s Army was not founded for the purpose of attacking others. We have no intention to strike others first,” Col. Pak, the naval spokesman, told APTN in the North Korean capital. “So why should we attack a ship like the Cheonan which has no relation with us, no need to strike it and we have no significance in doing so.”

North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission warned the South against provocative acts near their border, and urged the U.S. and Japan to “act with discretion,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul.

North Korea has waged a slew of attacks on South Korea since the 1950-53 fighting ended, including the 1987 downing of a South Korean airliner that killed all 115 people on board.

Pyongyang has never owned up to the attacks.

North Korea also disputes the maritime border drawn unilaterally by U.N. forces at the close of the Korean War, and the waters have been the site of several deadly naval clashes since 1999.

Detailed scientific analysis of the wreckage, as well as fragments recovered from the waters where the Cheonan went down, point to North Korea, investigators said.

The bending of the ship’s keel backs the theory that an underwater torpedo triggered a shockwave and bubble effect that tore the ship apart, the report said.

The report also cites fractures on the main deck, statements from survivors and a sentry on a nearby island, and fractures and lacerations on the remains of deceased sailors.

Pieces of the torpedo “perfectly match” the schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo Pyongyang has tried to sell abroad, chief investigator Yoon Duk-yong said.

A serial number on one fragment is consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that Seoul obtained years earlier, Yoon said.

“The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” he said. “There is no other plausible explanation.”

At Seoul’s main train station, scores of people watched raptly as the investigator laid out the evidence against North Korea.

“I’m afraid,” said Naima Vela, 26-year-old student from Italy. “I still have a month or two to stay in Seoul and I don’t know if I should.”

Near the Demilitarized Zone, tourists peered across the border into North Korea.

“As a mother of a boy who is serving his military duty right now, I don’t want a war to break out,” Jeon Bok-soon said in Paju as she looked across the border into North Korea.

“However if (North Korea) keeps mentioning war, I think we should also show our strong military power,” she said.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, Jay Alabaster in Tokyo, Kelly Olsen and Claire Lee in Seoul, and Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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