Published July 01, 2003
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) threatened on Tuesday to abandon the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War (search), and warned that it will take "merciless retaliatory measures" in response to any economic blockade.
U.S. efforts to pressure the communist state to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program have pushed Korea to "the crossroads of war or peace," said the North Korean military's representative at Panmunjom, a truce village where the U.N. Command and the North's military meet to oversee the armistice.
His statement was carried by the North's state-run KCNA news agency. KCNA did not give his name.
North Korea has recently stepped up its anti-U.S. rhetoric in an apparent attempt to force the United States to negotiate a dispute over the North's nuclear ambitions.
"It is, in fact, hardly possible to preserve the cease-fire in Korea by the unilateral efforts of the Korean People's Army side," the representative said.
North Korea has often threatened to scrap the armistice, the key legal document that keeps an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula. It has called the armistice a "dead document" or a "useless piece of paper."
The United States and its allies are pressuring North Korea to abandon its suspected development of nuclear weapons. In recent weeks, they began cracking down on alleged North Korean trading in illicit drugs, counterfeit money and weapons.
North Korea calls the moves part of a U.S. plan to impose an international siege on the isolated state and says they violate the armistice.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (search) did not directly answer a question about a New York Times article Tuesday reporting North Korea is developing technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit on its missiles.
"We have concerns," Fleischer said.
"We can say it's well known that Korea — North Korea is working hard on its WMD (weapons of mass destruction (search)) program, as well as on the means to deliver those programs," he said. "This is one of the reasons that the president has been such an ardent proponent of missile defense."
On Tuesday, the North said that if Washington applies sanctions or bolsters troops in the region, it "will promptly regard it as a complete breach of the armistice agreement by the U.S. side and will immediately take strong and merciless retaliatory measures."
Also Tuesday, North Korea accused the United States of conducting some 200 spy flights over its country in June.
KCNA said the United States used various reconnaissance planes to conduct aerial espionage last month.
The nuclear standoff began in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a covert nuclear program in violation of a 1994 pact.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not with a peace treaty.