North Korea Issues Ultimatum for Founder’s Anniversary

The 101st birth anniversary of North Korea’s founder passed without a missile launch, as the country’s military issued a warning to South Korea that a strike “will start without any notice.”

The military statement, citing protests in Seoul where portraits of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung were set afire, spoke of “retaliatory action” that would be aimed at those directly or indirectly involved and “those who instigated the perpetrators.”

The threat follows signals from Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday that the U.S. is still willing to engage with North Korean leaders. David Maxwell, associate director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in Washington, said it could be a response to Kerry designed to give wiggle room to the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

“This could very well be the initial tough response” telling the U.S. and South Korea “to stick it,” Maxwell said in an e-mail.

While statements like this are never issued without approval, the fact it came from the military instead of Kim would let North Korea’s political leaders distance themselves from the threat later, Maxwell said.

“They need to continue to talk tough,” Maxwell said. “Later they will be able to say that was not from the supreme commander himself.”

Kerry, at the end of a trip through Asia, reached an agreement with China, Japan and South Korea to try to coax the reclusive North Korean regime back to talks.

Reaching Out

“We’re prepared to reach out,” Kerry said yesterday in Tokyo. Any meeting would have to be at the “appropriate moment, appropriate circumstance,” he said.

South Korea’s won rose the most in more than two months after the U.S. agreed to work with China, Japan and South Korea to try and draw North Korea back into nuclear talks. The won rose 0.8 percent to 1,120.48 per dollar, the biggest gain since Feb. 4, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Kim early today paid his respects at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the tomb of both his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, the official Korean Central News Agency reported. Diplomats have been focused on whether Kim would mark the anniversary by testing another missile or nuclear device.

North Korea has repeatedly said the region is on the brink of war since its February nuclear test -- the third at its Punggye-ri underground site -- prompted stronger United Nations sanctions and the U.S. and South Korea began their joint annual military exercises last month.

Any Time

The South has warned previously that North Korea may carry out a provocation. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said while the North is ready to fire a missile at any time, it’s not preparing to wage a full-scale war. Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said earlier there had been no unusual North Korea troop movements.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress last week that the North moved at least one medium-range Musudan missile to its eastern coast. The Musudan has a range of 3,000 miles (4,827 kilometers) to 3,500 miles -- which is a potential threat to Guam, a U.S. territory, though not to Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, Locklear said.

Operations at the inter-Korean Gaeseong industrial complex remained suspended for the seventh day today after the North withdrew its 53,397 workers and denied South Korean access to the complex north of the demilitarized zone.

South Korea’s invitation on April 11 to discuss normalization of operations at Gaeseong is “meaningless” while the U.S. and South Korea’s joint Foal Eagle military exercises continue, the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea said yesterday in a statement carried by KCNA. Those drills conclude at the end of April.

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