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How will North Korea respond to South Korea's threats?

A third nuclear test and naval confrontations in the Yellow Sea are likely, say analysts, in response to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's announcement Monday of retaliatory measures against North Korea for torpedoing the navy ship Cheonan.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / May 24, 2010

South Koreans watch a live broadcast of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's press conference at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday. Lee said that Seoul will take North Korea to the UN Security Council over the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March.

Ahn Young-joon/AP


Seoul, South Korea

South Korea President Lee Myung-bak issued a strongly worded declaration Monday of retaliatory measures against North Korea for torpedoing the navy ship Cheonan. The question now: How will North Korea respond?

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Analysts predict fresh North Korean military challenges in the waters around South Korea – and more rounds of naval warfare. Some are concerned that North Korea may conduct a third nuclear weapons test or test-fire more missiles. In any case, threats are flying on the Korean Peninsula in what may be a new period of danger – and diplomacy.

North Korea has already threatened to fire on South Korean loudspeakers if they resume propaganda broadcasts from their side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has divided the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

Mr. Lee, vowing to prevent any repetition of North Korean “brutality,” suspended North-South trade and an agreement that gave North Korean vessels the right to go through South Korean waters around the southern end of the peninsula. Those measures, plus a diplomatic campaign to get the UN Security Council to impose sanctions, raised the specter of a wide range of North Korean responses.

North 'will test' South

“A typical menu would include another nuclear test and missile test-firing,” says Kim Sung-han, professor of international relations at Korea University. But he predicts that North Korea first “will test the will of South Korea by sending vessels into South Korean waters.”

North Korea may begin, he says, by seeing if South Korea will really ban North Korean ships from sailing through the straits between Jeju Island, off South Korea’s southern coast, and the southern tip of South Korea. The ban tacks on two or three additional days of travel to North Korean vessels making the long trip to and from ports on the North’s east and west coasts.

“Then they will try to cross the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea,” says Professor Kim, citing the danger of more skirmishes near where a North Korean submarine on March 26 fired a torpedo at the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan, sinking it and killing 46 of the 104 sailors on board, according to the findings of an international investigation.

President Lee, vowing that North Korea would “pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts,” said South Korea “from now on will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence.”

The inference was that South Korea would intensify patrols, including anti-submarine exercises, in the Yellow Sea along the Northern Limit Line below which South Korea bans North Korean vessels.