SEOUL: Seeing an opportunity in widespread anti-American sentiment in South Korea, North Korea urged the South yesterday to prevent war by backing the North in its confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons development.
“It is an urgent national task to avert the danger of war and preserve peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the communist North said in a New Year’s message which accused the United States of preparing to launch a “pre-emptive nuclear attack.”
“There is neither reason nor condition for the fellow countrymen to strain the situation and disturb peace ... as the North and the South are heading for reconciliation, unity and reunification,” said the message, carried by the government-run Korean Central News Agency.
Thousands of South Koreans have taken part in recent weeks in anti-American protests triggered by the deaths of two teenage girls who were hit by a US military vehicle in June.
The protesters have also denounced US policy toward the North, while some have demanded an end to the US military presence in South Korea.
North Korea has a long-standing strategy of trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. But its latest emphasis on co-operation with South Korea comes as Seoul has openly criticised a possible US plan to use economic sanctions to force North Korea to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons programme.
Under President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine” policy of engaging North Korea, the South has launched a series of inter-Korean projects, including a proposed cross-border rail link and tourist and industrial parks, that would bring the impoverished North badly needed investment and cash.
North Korea, which has difficulty feeding its 22 million people without outside relief, risked losing key aid in recent weeks by expelling UN inspectors and threatening to pull out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to free its nuclear facilities from international controls.
Missar Demirdjian, one of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)inspectors expelled by Pyongyang, arrived yesterday at Vienna’s Schwechat airport on a flight from Beijing.
“We, of course, hope to go back as soon as possible,” he said, adding that he would report soon to the IAEA, and that he had left at the IAEA’s request.
“North Korea has been digging deeper into isolation these days, and the United States is pouring hot water into the hole to force it to come out,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korea expert in Seoul’s Dongkuk University.
“At this hard time, North Korea increasingly sees that South Korea is its only friend, as it tries to avoid the brunt of US diplomatic pressure,” Koh said.
Although North Korea’s recent decision to reactivate its nuclear programme angered much of the world, it stirred little reaction among ordinary South Koreans.
In recent years, North Korea has revamped its image among many South Koreans through a series of reconciliation projects, such as reunions of aging Koreans separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. – AP