HANOI, Vietnam North Korea inflamed tensions over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by threatening the United States and South Korea on Friday with a physical response if they carry out naval maneuvers this weekend. The U.S. refused to back down.
The latest threat came four months after the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. The North has been blamed, but vehemently denies any involvement.
In Vietnam for a Southeast Asian regional security forum, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a North Korean official traded barbs over the sinking, the four-day military drills beginning Sunday and the imposition of new U.S. sanctions against the North.
Also Friday, the U.S.-led military command monitoring the cease-fire on the Korean peninsula confronted the North about the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, calling it a violation of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean war. Colonels from the U.N. Command, who met at the border with counterparts from the Norths army, reminded them of the U.N. Security Council order to honor the truce. Officers also proposed a joint task force to discuss armistice violations, the military commission said in a statement.
A team of international investigators concluded in May that a North Korean submarine fired the torpedo that sank the Cheonan. The U.N. Security Council approved a presidential statement this month condemning the sinking, but did not directly blame Pyongyang.
The U.N. Command, however, blames North Korea and considers the sinking a violation of the cease-fire, an official said Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because the results of the commands own investigation have not been released.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Hanoi, North Korean spokesman Ri Tong Il repeated Pyongyangs denial of responsibility for the sinking. He said the upcoming military drills to be conducted in the Sea of Japan off Koreas east coast and in the Yellow Sea closer to Chinas shores were a violation of its sovereignty that harkened back to the days of 19th-century gunboat diplomacy.
The exercises will be another expression of hostile policy against North Korea.
There will be physical response against the threat imposed by the United States militarily, Ri told reporters.
Clinton responded by saying the U.S. is willing to meet and negotiate with the North, but that this type of threat only heightens tensions. She added that progress in the short term seems unlikely.
It is distressing when North Korea continues its threats and causes so much anxiety among its neighbors and the larger region, she told reporters. But we will demonstrate once again with our military exercises ... that the United States stands in firm support of the defense of South Korea and we will continue to do so.