Seoul: North Korea, defiant in
the face of international condemnation of its latest nuclear test,
fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday and
accused the United States of plotting against its government.
In a move certain to compound tensions in the region, South Korea
said it would join a U.S.-led initiative to intercept ships
suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction, something
Pyongyang has warned it would consider a declaration of war.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a government source in Seoul
as saying the North had test-fired one surface-to-air and one
surface-to-ship missile off of its east coast. The missiles had a
range of about 130 km (80 miles).
The North fired off three short-range missiles on Monday.
Monday's nuclear test, the North's second after one in 2006, drew
sharp rebuke from regional powers, and U.S. President Barack Obama
called Pyongyang's atomic arms program a threat to international
The demonstrations of military might have also taken a toll on
Seoul's jittery financial markets, worried about the impact of North
Korea's growing belligerence in a region which accounts for a sixth
of the global economy.
Underlining concerns over how far the North might be prepared to
raise the stakes, Obama assured South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
of Washington's unequivocal commitment to defense on the
long-divided peninsula, where some two million troops face off.
There is little more Washington can do to deter the ostracized
state, punished for years by international sanctions and so poor it
relies on aid to feed its 23 million people.
Analysts say the latest military grandstanding is also aimed at
bolstering leader Kim Jong-il's steel grip on power at home so he
can better engineer his succession -- with many speculating he wants
his third son to take over.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the nuclear test and is working
on a new resolution, but analysts say North Korea's giant neighbor
China is unlikely to support anything tough.
For China, the more immediate risk may be serious rupture inside the
impoverished state, which could spark a flood of North Korean
refugees across its border.
Beijing is also believed to want to bring Pyongyang back to
long-running talks with regional powers to make it give up ambitions
to be a nuclear weapons power in return for massive aid and an end
to its years as a pariah state.
However, analysts say North Korea, which now spurns those talks,
looks set on wanting a place at the table of nuclear-armed states
and the leverage that will bring it with Washington.
Brushing aside the latest international condemnation, Pyongyang said
the United States was the aggressive one, its long-held argument to
justify having a nuclear arsenal.
"The U.S. would be well advised to halt at once its dangerous
military moves against the DPRK (North Korea) if it wants to escape
the lot of a tiger moth, bearing deep in mind that any attempt to
make a pre-emptive attack on the DPRK is little short of inviting a
SEOUL STOCKS, CURRENCY FALL
South Korean stocks and the won currency still looked shaken by the
latest events, with the main KOSPI share index ending the day more
than 2 percent lower, while the won fell almost one percent against
the dollar, although many traders said the market was becoming less
concerned by North Korea.
"While sentiment was certainly weighed down by growing North Korea
tension, we think its impact would be relatively short-lived," said
So Jang-ho, a market analyst at Samsung Securities.
number of analysts said 67-year-old leader Kim, who is widely
thought to have suffered a stroke last year, hopes his defiant
weapons tests will help him secure support from the hard-line
military for his chosen successor.
was named successor by his father and the country's founding
president Kim Il-sung, but has carefully avoided putting any of his
three sons in the limelight.
"North Korea can only be hawkish this time, because time's running
out for Kim Jong-Il," said Jang Cheol-hyeon, an expert at the
Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul and a former
official at the Workers Party of North Korea.
wants to seal a deal with the United States quickly and seek a swift
and sharp improvement in the country's economy before he can anoint
one of his sons to succeed him, Jang said.
While the outside world was condemning Kim, state media reported on
him enjoying a performance by troops which included the songs "Our
General Is the Best" and "Song of Coastal Artillery Women."
nuclear test has drawn outrage in the South, which is still mourning
Saturday's suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
is also bound to raise concerns about proliferation, a major worry
of the United States which has in the past accused Pyongyang of
trying try to sell its nuclear know-how to states such as Syria.
Some analysts say it also has close military ties with Iran.
(Additional reporting by Rhee So-eui, Kim Junghyun, Jon Herskovitz
and Jack Kim in SEOUL, Chris Buckley in BEIJING, Arshad Mohammed and
Paul Eckert in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by
Dean Yates and John Chalmers)