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New leader, same old rhetoric from North Korea

SEOUL — North Korea has issued a series of threats relating to U.S. military in recent days, putting to rest any thought the new regime might reduce the rhetoric coming out of the hermit kingdom.

News that the Pentagon plans to maintain its focus on developments in the Pacific despite budget cuts elsewhere prompted North Korea’s Central News Agency to say, “The U.S. is keen to make the 21st century a ‘U.S. Pacific century’ in a bid to emerge an emperor of the world.

“The U.S. would be well advised not to forget the historical fact that it drank a bitter cup of defeat in Korea last century.”

That pronouncement came just days after the North reacted to the released schedule for this year’s annual combined U.S./South Korea Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military exercises by saying, “This is an unpardonable grave military provocation to the sovereignty of [North Korea] and a wanton challenge to the international community’s desire for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.”

The KCNA commentary went on to criticize the timing of the two exercises, while the North is still mourning the December death of leader Kim Jong Il.

“The army and people of [North Korea] will mercilessly punish those gangsters who rush into a house of mourning with (a) flaming torch of aggression,” the propaganda Web site said.

For years, North Korea has made a habit of issuing outrageous and sometimes comically over-the-top threats against the U.S. and South Korea, which the North almost never acts upon.

In the wake of Kim’s death, North Korea watchers wondered aloud whether the new regime under his son, Kim Jong Un, would be more open to improved relations with the U.S. and South Korea, and whether the North would tone down its rhetoric.
After about a month, it doesn’t appear so.

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The KCNA commentary about the Pentagon’s renewed interest in the Pacific said, “The U.S. unlimited imperialist greed and military adventures are posing a grave menace to peace and stability in the region and increasing the danger of a new Cold War there.”

And, in commenting on the overlapping Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises in South Korea, which begin on Feb. 27, the KCNA said, “The Key Resolve is a nuclear war rehearsal for aggression on [North Korea] aimed to occupy the whole of the Korean Peninsula by force of arms.

“It is as clear as noonday that the exercises will deteriorate the critical inter-Korean relations and drive the tension of the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war,” the website said.

Experts on North Korea said previously there is a method behind the North’s seeming madness of media machinations — the North uses the rhetoric to keep its people believing the government is protecting it from a never-ending series of threats, and to project a bloated image of its own power to the outside world.

“You have to puff yourself up and sound meaner. … It’s the only way you’re going to get attention and, eventually, the respect of bigger, stronger powers,” Robert Carlin — who worked for more than a decade in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence, where one of his jobs was analyzing North Korea’s official statements — said in an earlier interview.

rabiroffj@pstripes.osd.mil

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