North Korea lashes out at global effort to contain its nuclear program
Pyongyang attacked South Korea’s decision to join a partnership meant to block shipments of nuclear materiel.
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North Korea is threatening to fight back.
Although Seoul says it has no intention of stopping and boarding a North Korean vessel, Pyongyang responded in harsh tones Wednesday to South Korea's joining the Proliferation Security Initiative as a full-fledged member.
A North Korean military spokesman declared that "search and seizure" of a North Korean vessel would be "an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty" to which "we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike."
North Korea tested a nuclear weapon Monday and has test-fired half a dozen missiles this week. These actions, coinciding with South Korean reports that North Korea has restarted its main nuclear facility, prompted South Korea to join the global counter-proliferation program, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
The global program was initiated during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2003 to draw nations together to halt the flow of nuclear materiel and of missiles for firing warheads to distant targets. South Korea's decision makes it one of 15 core members of PSI. Previously it had been an observer among scores of nations participating on an occasional basis.
South Korea's foreign minister, Yu Hwang Hwan, calls the decision to join the PSI "a natural obligation for a mature country" to "help control North Korea's development of dangerous materiel."
Walking away from reconciliation
South Korea's move may not have an immediate impact but counts as a milestone in a rising confrontation. Its membership in PSI is seen by some analysts as an acknowledgement of the end of efforts at reconciliation with the North after the failure of six-party talks to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
For now, South Korea's membership only carries symbolic significance – unless or until the United States specifically asks South Korea to assist in blockading ships suspected of carrying illicit cargo.
In practical terms, the PSI has been effective mainly as a vehicle for exchanging information and staging exercises.
US offers warm welcome into PSI
The speed and enthusiasm with which the Obama administration greeted South Korea's decision to join PSI suggests that the US may want to use PSI as more than a vehicle for training exercises and exchange of information on the movement of suspicious vessels and cargo.