News / Asia

North Korea Escalates Threat to Scrap US Truce

A giant North Korean flag flutters on the top of a tower in the propaganda village of Gijeongdong, North Korea, seen from South Korea, near the border village of Panmunjom, Feb. 15, 2013.
A giant North Korean flag flutters on the top of a tower in the propaganda village of Gijeongdong, North Korea, seen from South Korea, near the border village of Panmunjom, Feb. 15, 2013.
North Korea's latest threat to nullify a 1953 armistice agreement with the United States marks an escalation of its long-standing rhetoric against Washington.

Pyongyang has threatened before to scrap the armistice that ended the Korean War, but Tuesday's warning broadcast on North Korean state television appeared to be more significant, both in detail and the way it was presented.

In the broadcast, Korean People's Army spokesman Kim Yong Chol read a statement criticizing the United States and South Korea for starting a two-month series of military exercises.

The North Korean officer said the drills, which began March 1 and run to the end of April, are "blatant acts of military provocation." He said the KPA Supreme Command will respond to the exercises with what he called a series of "even more powerful and real countermeasures."

The officer said Pyongyang also will "completely nullify" the 1953 armistice beginning March 11, and cut off a truce hotline to U.S. and South Korean forces at the border village of Panmunjom.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should promote peace and engage in negotiations rather than "abrogate" the truce.  

VOA Seoul Correspondent Steve Herman said Pyongyang's warning appears to be more than just a rhetorical threat against its enemies.

"Usually such threats are not read out on television and broadcast on radio by a high-ranking general, as is the case that we have seen here," Herman said. "Now, this statement did go out in the Korean language initially, so this was certainly intended for a domestic audience primarily in North Korea."

North Korea issued the threat as the United States, South Korea and their allies made progress in seeking a new round of U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang for conducting a third nuclear test last month.

The United States said Tuesday it has persuaded North Korea's main ally, China, to back a draft U.N. Security Council resolution targeting "illicit" activities by North Korean diplomats and banks.

Herman said Pyongyang may use those diplomatic moves as another pretext to break the truce.

"Most analysts, most watchers are expecting that as a result of the further sanctions that the U.N. Security Council is now almost certain to enact sometime this week, as well as a [North Korean desire to respond] to the new administration coming in here in South Korea - and in the past when there has been a new administration in Seoul there has been some sort of [North Korean] test to get the attention of the South - that there will be some kind of provocation eventually," he said.

But Herman said North Korea's armistice statement does not necessarily require it to cancel the truce.

"This is a bit conditional," he added. "They are saying this is linked to annual joint exercises that are about to begin between the United States and South Korea, so some of the language could be read as, this would only take place if the exercises would go ahead."

U.S. and South Korean forces began an annual exercise named Foal Eagle on March 1st, but a separate computer-simulated drill called Key Resolve is not due to start until March 11. Both nations have said the exercises are defensive in nature.

North Korea largely has avoided following through on previous threats of retaliation for U.S.-South Korean drills, instead preferring to uphold the 1953 truce.

That document was signed by military commanders of the United States, North Korea and China, without South Korean participation. Its terms included establishing a demilitarized zone as a buffer between the opposing forces, arranging the repatriation of prisoners of war and establishing a Military Armistice Commission.

Herman said Pyongyang has a compelling reason to keep the truce in effect.

"That armistice was signed by Kim Il Sung. And for the Korean People's Army to then void something that was signed by the founder of North Korea, who is still the eternal leader, who is revered as almost a deity in North Korea, would be profound," Herman said. "So I think a lot of analysts are going to have a difficult time thinking that the KPA is going to take lightly nullifying the armistice agreement."

The risk of renewed conflict remains. The truce never was upgraded to a peace agreement, leaving the Korean peninsula in a technical state of war since 1950.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: J from: Los Angeles
March 05, 2013 8:43 PM
Funny, last I read, according to the UN, this was a UN truce, not a US truce. VOA or NK, get your facts straight.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs