North Korea 'ready for war'

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The Independent Online
DRAMATIC threats of war from North Korea yesterday left the United States contemplating the failure of its efforts through diplomatic means to defuse nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The North Korean delegation stormed out of the negotiations at the border town of Panmunjom early yesterday. One negotiator, Park Young Su, was quoted as saying: 'Seoul is not very far from here. Seoul will turn into a sea of fire.'

Complaining of the South's continuing demands for full inspection of nuclear facilities, he said: 'If you act like that, collision is inevitable and war is unavoidable. We are ready either for dialogue or war.'

South Korean officials said it was the first time that an explicit reference to war had been made in the contacts.

Last month, Washington helped to broker a deal designed to end a year-long stand-off between North Korea and the international community over suspicions that Pyongyang may be developing a nuclear bomb.

Yesterday, President Clinton summoned an emergency meeting of his national security team at the White House to consider the resurgence of the crisis. A US official last night said military exercises with South Korea would resume if there was no change in the dispute.

Earlier last week members of an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection team said that North Korea had failed to honour commitments made to the US by refusing the inspectors full access to nuclear facilities in the country.

North Korea is suspected of extracting plutonium for use in nuclear warheads. Western governments fear that the country may already have developed a nuclear bomb.

It is probable that Washington will recommend that the issue be referred to the Security Council of the United Nations for a vote on whether to impose economic sanctions against North Korea. Pyongyang has already warned that it would consider such a move an act of war. For its part, Washington may respond by sending a consignment of Patriot missiles to South Korea to help in any possible defence of Seoul against incoming missiles.

The third in a series of high-level meetings between the US and North Korea, planned for tomorrow in Geneva, is also likely to be cancelled. The successful conclusion of the border talks in Panmunjom, aimed at an exchange of presidential envoys to help settle the nuclear dispute, was one of the American conditions for continuing with the Geneva discussions.

Passing the issue on to the Security Council in New York would amount to an admission of defeat by Washington. Mr Clinton had hoped to avoid any further confrontation with the North Koreans.