SEOUL: Showing no willingness to ease tensions over its nuclear weapons programme, North Korea vowed yesterday to build an army-based “powerful nation” and defy pressure from the United States.
North Korea says it fears a possible US military attack, but US President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that he was confident the North’s nuclear issue can be resolved through diplomacy.
“This is not a military showdown. This is a diplomatic showdown,” Bush said.
North Korea, in its New Year message, called on its people to unite under “the banner of the army-based policy” and build a “powerful nation” to counter a possible US invasion. The reality is that North Korea is impoverished and dependent on outside food aid, much of it supplied by the United States via the UN World Food Programme.
“The United States is now becoming all the more frantic in its moves to stifle (North Korea), openly clamouring about a pre-emptive nuclear attack on it,” said the message, carried on the country’s foreign news outlet, Korean Central News Agency.
The English-language message made no mention of rising international concern over Pyongyang’s decision to reactivate its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, but stressed the importance of uniting around the country’s military.
In an apparent effort to take advantage of an upsurge in anti-US sentiment in South Korea, the message urged “all the Koreans in the North and the South and abroad” to join in confronting the United States.
“It can be said that there exists on the Korean Peninsula at present only confrontation between the Koreans in the North and the South and the United States,” it said.
US and South Korean officials say their alliance is strong, though North Korea has often tried to drive a wedge between them.
Some South Koreans worry that the nuclear dispute could trigger armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the world’s last Cold War frontier. More than two million troops are massed on both sides of the Korean border. About 37,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who won a Dec 19 vote, helped partly by surging anti-US sentiment among his people, on Tuesday warned against “blindly following US policy.”
“The United States should consult fully with South Korea, rather than making a decision unilaterally and then expecting South Korea to follow it,” said Roh, who begins a five-year term in February.
Roh supports outgoing President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine” policy of engaging North Korea. They believe that dialogue is the only viable way to resolve the North’s nuclear issue peacefully.
US and South Korea deny that a rift is developing between the two close allies over the nuclear dispute.
But in the past two days, both Roh and Kim have expressed concern that Washington might impose heavy economic pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions and that this could backfire and harden the North’s stance. – AP