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Why North Korea threat to abandon armistice rings hollow

North Korea has already claimed to abandon its armistice with the South once – in 2009, when, like today, it was facing a new round of sanctions for a nuclear test.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2013

The US Second Infantry Division participates in a live-fire exercise earlier this year as part of cold-weather training with the South Korean Army in Yeoncheon, South Korea. North Korea has threatened to abandon the armistice with the South that ended the Korean War.

Lim Byung-sik/Yonhap/Reuters/File

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Washington

If North Korea’s bellicose declaration Tuesday that it was threatening to withdraw from the Korean War armistice in response to annual US-South Korea military exercises sounded a little familiar, there’s a good reason.

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Pyongyang had already announced its withdrawal from the 1953 armistice in 2009 when, like today, the North was fuming over mounting international pressure in response to its nuclear program and military activities.

The United States announced Tuesday that it had agreed with China on a North Korea sanctions resolution it expects the United Nations Security Council to adopt by the end of the week. North Korea’s last announcement of a “nullification” of the armistice also accompanied a round of UN sanctions.

“Maybe North Korea should check its files, because they already abrogated the armistice in May 2009,” says Bruce Klingner, a Northeast Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington. “They said at the time they had abrogated it and were no longer bound by it,” Mr. Klinger says, “so I guess you could say history is repeating itself.”

The North Korean government said in its statement that it was acting in response to US-South Korean military exercises set to continue through April. The bilateral military activity is “a systematic act of destruction aimed at the Korean armistice,” the statement said.

While the North has never liked the annual US-South Korea joint exercises, more infuriating still to Pyongyang is word of the US-China agreement on sanctions as punishment for the North’s Feb. 12 nuclear test, regional analysts say.

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said she expects the sanctions resolution to “take the UN sanctions imposed on North Korea to the next level, breaking new ground and imposing significant new legal obligations” on the North.

The new resolution “for the first time” targets the “illicit” activities of North Korean diplomats, North Korean banking relationships, and illicit transfers of bulk cash, Ambassador Rice said.

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