The references to war marked a sharp escalation in the rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang over the Communist country's continuing refusal to open its nuclear programme to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The two sides have been engaged in stop-start diplomacy since July, as North Korea tries to bargain its suspected nuclear weapons programme against US promises of diplomatic recognition and economic assistance. The US has signalled that it wants a negotiated solution, but each US concession appears to harden Pyongyang's stance at the bargaining table.
Adding to the tension were comments in Tokyo yesterday by Admiral Charles Larson, the chief US military commander for the Asia-Pacific region, who said the threat to the South from North Korea had increased 'reasonably significantly' over the last year. He referred specifically to the recent installation of 'modern self-propelled artillery built into the hills (just inside North Korea) . . which now put Seoul within range'.
Some 1.1 million North Korean and 700,000 combined South Korean and American troops face each other on the Korean peninsula across one of the most heavily militarised borders in the world. Seoul, with a population of 11 million, is less than 25 miles from the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating North and South.
Mr Woolsey, speaking in a television interview on Tuesday night, said the CIA regarded the situation in North Korea as 'quite troubling'. On the threat of war, he said: 'You can't rule it out. (It is) important to keep our powder dry and keep prepared.' He implied that CIA spies had penetrated the secretive government and were dispatching intelligence reports 'at least several times a week'.
Earlier, North Korea's government news agency had said: 'We are fully prepared to safeguard the sovereignty of the country even if the worst event such as sanctions or war is imposed on us.'
Mr Woolsey noted that two- thirds of North Korea's army was massed within 60 miles of the DMZ. Recent news reports have suggested that a mass human-wave invasion from the North could overwhelm South Korean defences and occupy Seoul before the joint South Korean-US forces could regroup to counter-attack.
But in Tokyo, Admiral Larson said the outcome of any war on the Korean peninsula was not in doubt. 'A war between North and South would be very costly in human lives, and we want to avoid that. But . . . the South would win. There is no victory option for North Korea.'Reuse content