The love-hate triangle between the United States, North Korea, and South Korea continues.
Pyongyang has called its recent naval clash with the South the result of Seoul’s meddling in U.S.-North Korean reconciliation. Referring to the incident as “deliberate, planned provocation” by South Korea, one of Pyongyang’s state-run newspapers reported today, “It goes to show how recklessly crazy the South Korean government is in trying to put a brake on improving relations between North Korea and the U.S.”
This is not the first time Pyongyang has accused Seoul of playing saboteur…
In its rejection of President Lee Myung-bak’s “grand bargain” proposal, Pyongyang explained that the real problem was Washington’s hostility and that Lee’s “ridiculous proposal” was nothing more than interference: “It is evident that [Lee] seeks to meddle and stand in the way of settling the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S.”
South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo explained the predictability of Tuesday’s sudden clash: “The North uses the fears of its counterparts as a negotiating tactic.” According to Donga Ilbo, both the 1999 Yellow Sea clash and 2002 Yeonpyeong Island clash were prompted by North Korea amidst diplomatic activity so as to achieve leverage through tension. Similarly, Tuesday’s clash precedes a trip to Pyongyang next month by U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth.
In each confrontation, the North blamed the South. “It’s a sly conspiracy,” said the DPRK state-run news agency of South Korea’s role during Tuesday’s naval clash. But documentation of each incident tells another story. In the most recent confrontation, a North Korean patrol boat charged through a disputed sea border, ignored several warning shots from South Korean vessels, and then fired directly upon a South Korea patrol boat. North Korean vessels were also first to fire in the other two conflicts.
In what seems to be an effort to undercut Pyongyang’s rhetoric, both the United States and South Korea have attempted to downplay the event, noting that it would have no bearing on diplomatic plans. Within hours of the clash, South Korea’s government declared that inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges would be unaffected, while Secretary Clinton yesterday “urged calm” and noted that plans for Bosworth’s trip remain unchanged.
South Korean troops are now on high alert, anticipating possible retaliation after the superior South Korean navy sent Pyongyang’s patrol boat limping away in flames.