North Korea urged the U.N. Security Council to impartially handle the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the secretive state, warning Wednesday ongoing tension over the incident could trigger nuclear war.
The threat came hours after the country's U.N. ambassador told reporters at a rare news conference in New York that its military will respond if the world body questions or condemns North Korea over the sinking. Sin Son Ho repeated his regime's position that it had nothing to do with the sinking that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
"The U.N. Security Council must fulfill its responsibilities by bringing to light the truth of the incident impartially and objectively," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary Wednesday.
The paper said tension is running so high on the peninsula that any accidental incident could trigger an all-out conflict, even a nuclear war.
"Indeed, a very dangerous situation — in which a minor accidental incident could trigger an all-out war and develop into a nuclear war — is fostered on the Korean peninsula now," said the commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea, which is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons, has made similar threats in the past to wield its atomic arsenal in times of tension with the outside world. Experts are doubtful, however, if the country has the means to use a nuclear weapon in battle.
South Korea has taken punitive measures against North Korea, including trade restrictions, after blaming it for torpedoing the warship Cheonan near their tense sea border on March 26. The North reacted angrily, declaring it was cutting off ties with Seoul and threatening to attack.
South Korea's military dismissed North Korea's nuclear warning as "routine rhetoric" but said it was closely watching the North Korean military.
"We're maintaining our vigilance" against any North Korean provocation, said an officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff on condition of anonymity citing department policy. There have been no signs of unusual activity by the North's military in border areas, he added.
When asked during Tuesday's news conference if his country would rule out the use of nuclear weapons in response to any Security Council action, Sin said: "Nuclear weapons is our deterrent because we are always threatened by outside forces.
"If the Security Council release any documents against us condemning or questioning us in any document, then myself as (a) diplomat, I can do nothing — but follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces," he warned.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in response to Sin's comments that, "We're looking for North Korea to change its unacceptable behavior, to cease belligerent actions."
Separately, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was to visit South Korea later Wednesday for a two-day trip aimed at discussing the sinking and other pending issues, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry.
Also, about 200 conservative activists rallied in Seoul on Wednesday, criticizing a liberal-leaning civic group for sending U.N. Security Council members e-mails raising questions about the investigation results on the sinking that South Korea reached with U.S., British and other foreign experts.
"Go to North Korea!" the activists chanted, engaging in minor scuffles with police trying to stop them from approaching the office of People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. Officials at the civic group could not immediately be reached for comment on the rally.
North and South Korea made separate presentations to the U.N. body Monday over Seoul's request to punish Pyongyang over the sinking.
The council said in a statement after the Monday presentations it is concerned the ship sinking could endanger peace on the Korean peninsula, and it urged Seoul and Pyongyang to refrain from any provocative acts.
The two Koreas are still technically at war because their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The sinking occurred near the disputed western sea border — a scene of three bloody maritime battles.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Foster Klug in Washington and AP Television News cameraman Choi Sung-hoon in Seoul contributed to this report.
Source : The Associated Press