June 01, 2009 10:45
North Korea is apparently preparing to provoke skirmishes in the West Sea and test an intercontinental ballistic missile. The naval confrontations could happen as early as Monday or Tuesday timed with the ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit, while the missile test could coincide with the June 16 Seoul-Washington summit, a government official speculated Sunday.
On Wednesday, the North Korean Army said it can no longer guarantee safe passage for South Korean and U.S. ships navigating in waters around the five West Sea islands claimed by both Koreas. Navigation is now banned along North Korea's entire western coast until the end of July and military communications have been curtailed to the bare minimum, apparently for fear of eavesdropping.
Both the first 1999 Yeonpyeong Naval Battle and a 2002 naval skirmish took place in the month of June. "The North has attracted world attention by selecting exquisite dates for its provocations," said a government security officer. Prof. Nam Joo-hong at Kyonggi University speculated that the North may provoke a naval skirmish off the west coast on or around June 6, South Korea's Memorial Day. June 15 marks the 9th anniversary of the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration, which Pyongyang has been insisting the South must implement.
Intelligence agencies expect the North will fire an ICBM in about two weeks. The Seoul-Washington summit is scheduled for June 16, and strong UN Security Council sanctions against the North over its nuclear test last week are to be outlined by that time.
The North in an April 29 statement denouncing Security Council sanctions over its long-range rocket launch earlier in the month warned it would carry out a nuclear test, fire an ICBM and restart a uranium enrichment program. With the nuclear test done, the next order of business is the missile test to show the improved capability of a delivery device for a nuclear warhead, said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
It remains to be seen whether it will impress. The long-range rocket North Korea fired in April flew 3,200 km, but only missiles with a range of over 5,500 km are classified as ICBMs. The distance between North Korea and the easternmost U.S. territory of Hawaii is some 7,300 km. "There are no signs that the Obama administration, which is still in its initial months, will back down in the face of North Korean provocations," a government official said. "Chances are that the North will step up provocations in June in an attempt to turn the situation around and reinforce the regime's hold."
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