North Korea on Thursday condemned imminent US-South Korea naval exercises as a threat to global peace, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Vietnam for Asia-Pacific security talks.
A spokesman for the North Korean delegation in Hanoi also dismissed fresh US sanctions against the isolated communist state for its alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, saying they violated a UN statement on the incident.
“Such movements pose a great threat not only to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula but also to global peace and security,” the spokesman, Ri Tong Il, told reporters.
“If the US is truly interested in the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula it must take the lead in creating an atmosphere (for dialogue) rather than… staging military exercises or imposing sanctions.”
The nuclear-armed North has warned of war if it is punished over the sinking of the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March with the loss of 46 lives, an incident that has sharply raised tensions on the peninsula.
The United States says its imminent naval exercises involving an aircraft carrier, destroyers and thousands of troops are “defensive” in nature and meant as a clear show of “deterrence” against North Korean “aggression”.
Clinton told reporters travelling with her to Hanoi that the sanctions, announced Wednesday as she visited South Korea, would target the elite in Pyongyang and not ordinary North Koreans.
“The regime depends on the loyalty of a cadre of people on the top. To support that group in the style they’ve (become) accustomed (to) requires a reservoir of hard currency,” she said.
“Part of what we?re trying to do is to limit the supply of hard currency the regime can use to provide funds to this governing elite.”
State Department officials said Clinton would ask Beijing to increase the pressure on its ally North Korea, during bilateral talks with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Hanoi later Thursday.
But officials in Clinton’s delegation said the meeting was not expected to take place until Friday, when the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meets to discuss a range of security issues spanning the Asia-Pacific.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Clinton would ask Yang to look at additional steps to pressure North Korea to stop what Clinton called its “destabilising, illicit and provocative policies”.
“We hope (greater sanctions) have an impact on the core leadership which will, I think, change their calculations about how they engage with the United States and other countries,” he said in Washington.
Heightened tensions over the sinking of the corvette have further tested already strained relations between Washington and Beijing, which froze military ties with the United States in January over arms sales to Taiwan.
South Korea, the United States and other nations — citing the findings of a multinational investigation — have accused the North of sending a submarine to torpedo the ship.
Pyongyang angrily denies the allegations and China has not blamed its communist ally.
The UN condemned the attack as a threat to regional peace, expressed deep concern at the findings of the investigation but noted the North’s denial and did not apportion blame — a result hailed as a “victory” in Pyongyang.
China has repeatedly warned Washington and Seoul against the exercises.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang called on all sides to “maintain a cool head and exercise restraint, and not do anything that aggravates regional tensions”.
A draft ARF declaration expresses “deep concern” over the sinking of the Cheonan and supports the July 9 UN statement, without blaming the North or acknowledging the probe that found it responsible for the alleged attack.
It also calls for the resumption of six-party talks on North Korean disarmament.
The countries involved in the stalled talks — China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States — will be represented at the ARF but analysts expect little progress will be made on resuming the dialogue.