Clinton Pledges U.S. Military Presence, Warns North Korea
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ President Clinton ended his first trip to Asia with a promise to maintain U.S. military readiness in the Pacific and a warning to North Korea that it faces ruin if it develops nuclear weapons.
Today, North Korea accused Clinton of provoking Pyongyang with threats of war and charged that Japan intends to develop nuclear weapons. The harsh statement came hours after North Korea, in a rare conciliatory gesture, turned over what it said were the remains of 17 U.S. servicemen who died during the Korean War.
Clinton dramatized his message Sunday by becoming the first U.S. leader to walk within feet of North Korean sentries during a tour of the Korean border - the most heavily armed in the world.
The Communist North, he said during the 30-hour visit, must comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow full international inspections of its secretive nuclear facilities.
″It would be pointless for them to develop nuclear weapons,″ Clinton said, ″because if they ever used them it would be the end of their country.″
The North Korean government lashed back today through its Korean Central News Agency, monitored in Tokyo. ″The United States must ponder over the fatal consequences that might arise from its rash act,″ the statement said. ″If anyone dares to provoke us, we will immediately show him in practice what our bold decision is.″
The statement did not specify what action would be taken.
North Korea has denied that it is developing nuclear weapons but has banned inspections of two suspected nuclear facilities. Last month, North Korea reversed its decision to drop out of the nuclear controls treaty. Further U.S.-North Korean talks on the matter begin Wednesday in Geneva.
At the talks, Washington is expected to pressure the North to accept inspections of the two sites or face consequences that could include punitive economic sanctions.
At the summit of major industrialized powers in Tokyo last week, Japan was the only nation to refuse to endorse an indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The North Korean news agency, quoting a Foreign Ministry official, said Japan’s objection ″revealed the intention of the Japanese government of arming Japan with nuclear weapons at any cost.″ The official said Japan wants nuclear arms because it wrongly believes North Korea is developing nuclear weapons.
The possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea could set off a nuclear arms race in the region and directly threatens South Korea, a U.S. ally.
″I think anyone who sees this would understand how important it is to stay strong on the issue of North Korea,″ Clinton said after a walk on the Bridge of No Return, a desolate unused bridge on the military demarcation line inside the Demilitarized Zone.
The bridge is the symbol of a peninsula divided since 1945 and of a border so tightly sealed that millions of Koreans separated from their families don’t know if loved ones are alive.
President Reagan visited the Demilitarized Zone in 1983, but didn’t go as close to the dividing line.
Hours after Clinton’s late Sunday departure for Hawaii, North Korea handed over what it said are the remains of 17 American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. Previously, the remains of only about 45 of more than 8,000 missing soldiers had been repatriated since the end of the war.
The United States has made the return of American war dead and the resolution of nuclear issues major conditions of improving ties between the two nations. North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations.
In talks with South Korean President Kim Young-sam, Clinton said the United States, despite defense cuts, would not scale back the 36,000 troops in Korea as long as a nuclear threat existed.