HANOI - The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Friday threatened the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) with a "physical response" to planned weekend naval exercises as tensions with Pyongyang rose in the aftermath of the sinking of a ROK warship.
In Vietnam for a Southeast Asian regional security forum, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a DPRK official traded barbs over the sinking (for which the DPRK has been blamed), the upcoming military drills and the imposition of new US sanctions against the DPRK.
Ri Tong-il, spokesman for the DPRK delegation to the talks, repeated Pyongyang's denial of responsibility for the March sinking, which killed 46 ROK sailors, and said the upcoming military drills are 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" the DPRK, Ri told reporters in Hanoi. "There will be a physical response against the threat imposed by the US militarily."
Clinton responded by saying the US is willing to meet and negotiate with the DPRK but that this type of threat only heightens tensions. She added that progress in the short term seems unlikely, given the circumstances.
"It is distressing when (the DPRK) 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 US stands in firm support of the defense of (the ROK) and we will continue to do so."
Shortly before Ri spoke, Clinton lashed out against belligerent acts by the DPRK, warning that it must reverse a "campaign of provocative, dangerous behavior" if it wants improved relations with its neighbors and the US.
She said stability in the region, particularly on the Korean Peninsula, depends largely on convincing an "isolated and belligerent" DPRK to alter course and return to nuclear disarmament talks.
Peaceful resolution of the issues on the peninsula will be possible only if the DPRK fundamentally changes its behavior, Clinton told the gathering of top officials from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and countries with major interests in the area, such as the US, China, Japan, the DPRK, the ROK and Russia.
There was no sign that members of the US and DPRK delegations would meet or even cross paths at the annual security forum, which has in the past been a venue for rare talks between the two sides.
On Wednesday, Clinton announced in Seoul, the ROK capital, that the US would slap new sanctions on the DPRK to stifle its nuclear ambitions and punish it for sinking the ROK ship. The penalties will target the country's elite by taking aim at illicit activities, such as counterfeiting cigarettes and cash and money laundering.
On Friday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, representing the European Union, said the bloc will also consider imposing new sanctions on the DPRK.
Clinton was in Seoul this week to show support for the ROK along with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In addition to the DPRK's behavior and its nuclear program, Clinton raised concerns about potential atomic collaboration between the DPRK and Myanmar, which is restricted by UN agreements.
Japan waded into the crisis by announcing plans to send four Maritime Self-defense Forces officers to observe the US-ROK exercises off the west coast of the divided Korean Peninsula, responding to invitations from the two countries.
It will be the first time Japan's self-defense forces have joined a US-ROK exercise, said a US Defense Ministry spokeswoman. The four officers will be aboard US aircraft carrier George Washington.