PAJU, South Korea, (Reuters) – North Korea suspended its sole remaining major project with the South on Monday, after weeks of threats against the United States and South Korea, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said any nuclear conflict could make Chernobyl look like a fairy tale.
Reclusive North Korea’s decision to all but close the Kaesong industrial park coincided with speculation that it will carry out some sort of provocative action – another nuclear weapons test or missile launch – in what has become one of the most serious crises on the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Tension has been rising since the United Nations imposed new sanctions against the North in response to its third test of a nuclear weapon in February. Pyongyang has been further angered by weeks of joint military exercises by South Korean and U.S. forces and threatened both countries with nuclear attack.
Putin said conflict on the peninsula could cause greater devastation than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
“I would make no secret about it, we are worried about the escalation on the Korean peninsula, because we are neighbours,” he told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to a trade fair in Germany.
“And if, God forbid, something happens, Chernobyl which we all know a lot about, may seem like a child’s fairy tale. Is there such a threat or not? I think there is… I would urge everyone to calm down … and start to resolve the problems that have piled up for many years there at the negotiating table.”
U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter urged China – the North’s sole financial and diplomatic backer – to use its influence with the North, something he said Moscow wanted Beijing to do as well.
“I think Russia, like others beholding this situation in North Korea, would like to see China exercise more of the influence that it evidently has with North Korea,” Carter told a forum in Washington. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said North Korea could not go on “confronting” the authority of the Security Council and challenging the international community.
“I sincerely hope that they will fully comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions. This is an urgent and earnest appeal from the international community, including myself.”
A senior North Korean official, quoted by the official KCNA news agency, said after a visit to Kaesong that authorities would withdraw North Korean workers and then decide on whether it would continue to operate.
“It will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its (continued) existence or close it,” KCNA quoted Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, as saying.