South Korea is upgrading its participation in a U.S., led international campaign to disrupt the traffic of weapons of mass destruction, a step it long avoided to prevent angering Pyongyang. The move comes after a nuclear test by the North, and several apparent short range missile launches.
South Korea said Tuesday it will now participate fully in the U.S. - led Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI. More than 90 nations take part in the program, which involves intelligence sharing and naval coordination to prevent nuclear and other illegal weapons from being transported. Until now, South Korea has only taken part as an observer.
North Korea warned last month that it would view South Korea's full participation as a declaration of war. For weeks, South Korean officials delayed expected announcements it would join, but experts say they had no other choice after Monday's underground nuclear weapons test by the North.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-hwan told lawmakers Tuesday joining PSI was the correct move for a "mature nation."
Yu said participating in PSI will help control North Korea's development of dangerous nuclear materials.
Monday's nuclear test was North Korea's second, and according to seismic readings, may have been more powerful than the first. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says he will work closely with the United States and other nations to seek a strong response.
He says he believes it is necessary to let North Korea know having nuclear programs will prove to be a bigger disadvantage than not having them.
Separately, North Korea fired three short range missiles off its east coast Monday. On Tuesday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported the North fired more short-range missiles off the same coast.
Dan Pinkston, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, warned against reading too much into the missile launches as a political message. He says the launches are more likely aimed at enforcing a two-day ban on ships off its East coast North Korea issued on Monday.
"They're just doing their military preparedness and doing their operational exercises and it's for those air defense purposes, and anti-ship purposes. That's what the system is for," Pinkston said.
North Korea experts suggest two main motivations for recent provocations. They say the North is seeking to raise the urgency of diplomacy with the North on the agenda of President Obama, so that Pyongyang can win concessions from Washington in one-on-one talks. Other analysts say North Korea has set aside diplomacy for now, and is sprinting toward full-fledged international recognition as a nuclear power, like India and Pakistan.
At any rate, little optimism remains for the future of six-nation talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons. Brian Myers, a professor at Dongseo University who specializes in North Korean media, says the six-party framework is dead.
"They stress over and over again in domestic propaganda, 'we are not going back to the six party talks.' Now I realize that North Korea has said in the past has said in the past, it ain't coming back, and then it comes back anyway," Myers said. "But this is the first time I've seen it emphasized in the domestic media to that extent."
Myers says North Korea's attitude was probably shaped by the Obama administration's signals that it was willing to engage North Korea on a bilateral basis.