N.Korea makes nuclear threat in standoff with South

SEOUL, (Reuters) – North Korea warned today   of a “holy war” against the South using its nuclear deterrent   as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed a “merciless   counterattack” if its territory is attacked again.
Both sides were raising the rhetoric on a day South Korea   launched major land and sea military exercises, prompting   North Korea to denounce its richer neighbour as a warmonger.
“To counter the enemy’s intentional drive to push the   situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are   making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment   necessary based on nuclear deterrent,” North Korea’s KCNA news   agency quoted Minister of Armed Forces Kim Yong-chun telling a   rally in Pyongyang.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the South and   its major ally, the United States, and has wielded the threat   of its nuclear deterrent before, despite analysts saying it   has no way to launch a nuclear device.
Lee said on a tour of a South Korean forward army base   overlooking North Korean territory that the South would not   relax its readiness to counter any aggression by the North.
“We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land,   but that was not the case,” Lee, criticised for perceived   earlier weakness to North Korean attacks, told troops.
South Korea held a major land drill in the Pocheon region,   between Seoul and the heavily armed demilitarised zone (DMZ)   separating the two Koreas. It also continued naval live-fire   exercises 100 km (60 miles) south of the maritime border with   North Korea.
The drill involves a larger scale of firepower and   personnel than usual for an exercise at the army training   ground, a further indication that Lee wants to show the public   his government can stand up to the North.
A large contingent of mechanised units operating tanks,   three dozen self-propelled artillery, fighter jets and   multiple rocket launchers, took part in the live-fire drill   just miles from the border. It lasted just under an hour.
Lee has replaced his top defence officials with more   hawkish military men, a response to criticism of his response   to hostile acts from the North, including an attack on a ship   in March and the shelling of Yeonpyeong island last month.
“(South Korea) is trying to hide the provocative nature   toward the North of the war exercises,” the North’s KCNA said   earlier in a comment, calling the drills “madcap” and   “offensive” and referring to the South Korean military as   “puppet warmongers”, an insult it frequently deploys.
The South Korean army is making no secret that the drill   is aimed at displaying its firepower to its neighbour.
“We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came   to see this air and ground operation. I want to feel and see   the level of South Korea’s armed forces,” said Kim Tae-dong, a   70-year-old internet businessman, in Pocheon.
“Another North Korean provocation will happen. We should   prepare our military perfectly for that.”
Seoul’s financial markets closed flat, with investors   shrugging off the tension. Pyongyang’s threatening remarks   have in the past failed to have a lasting effect.
Analysts say the North is unlikely, in the near-term at   least, to launch a further attack against the South.
For now, the North is likely to wait and see if its latest   actions, including an offer to readmit international nuclear   inspectors, yield results, such as a return to international   talks on its nuclear programme.
China, the impoverished North’s only major ally, has urged   dialogue to resolve the crisis and has been reluctant lay to   blame, frustrating Washington and its allies which want   Beijing to do more to rein in Pyongyang.
Barack Obama is expected to press this point when Chinese   President Hu Jintao visits the United States on Jan. 19.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, when asked   about the drills, repeated Beijing’s call for a resumption of   the so-called six-party talks.
“The current situation on the Korean peninsula remains   highly complex,” she told a regular news briefing. “We urge   parties concerned to exercise calm and restraint.”
Pyongyang will probably strike again when the conditions   are right, Andrei Lankov, at Kookmin University in Seoul, said.
“The North Korean leaders did not duck the fight this time   because they were afraid,” he wrote in the Financial Times   this week referring to the Monday’s drills.
“Rather, they did what a cold-minded tactician should do:   they avoided an engagement under unfavourable conditions   chosen by the opponent, in order to strike the opponent at the   time and place of their own choice, suddenly and forcefully.”

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