Tags: North Korea | ambassador | kim jong un | south korea | difficult

Ambassador: Kim Jong Un Makes North, South Korea Situation Difficult

Image: Ambassador: Kim Jong Un Makes North, South Korea Situation Difficult
Kim Jong Un (Kyodo via AP Images)

By    |   Friday, 21 Aug 2015 03:35 PM

North and South Korea are in a "crisis moment," U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said Friday, and he is "not sure there is a way to de-escalate" growing tensions between the two countries.

"We have to keep our seat belts on," Hill told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on his "Wolf" program Friday, admitting that it will be "tough" to reach an agreement with the unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Hill said he hates to refer to Kim's father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, as being "more predictable or sensible," but with him, "you could track your way out of this."

Earlier  Friday, Kim put front-line troops on a war footing in an attempt to back up his ultimatum for South Korea to stop broadcasting its high-decibel propaganda messages across the border, after tensions soared Thursday with an exchange of artillery fire.

The two Koreas have remained at war since 1953, when the Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a formal peace treaty. Kim has given such orders in the past, including in 2013 when he declared a "state of war" against South Korea.

On Thursday, Kim also chaired an emergency meeting of the North's Central Military Commission, which endorsed his ultimatum to either turn off the loudspeakers by Saturday afternoon or face action. South Korea's defense minister, though, said the loudspeakers will continue to operate.

Hill said Friday that tensions are especially high after an Aug. 10 incident, in which a young South Korean soldier lost his legs to a North Korean land mine that is being "considered outrageous by the South Korean people."

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, now a military analyst for CNN, said such tensions are typical at this time of year because it's around the time when the United States and South Korea are conducting the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises, but this year matters seem to be "ratcheted up."

According to a statement from Combined Forces Command, UFG is "a routine and defense-oriented exercise designed to enhance CFC readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula."

The exercise is planned for months in advance and is not connected to real-world events, but North Korea has once again been making threats even though the CFC says U.N. Command Military Armistice Commission has informed the North Korean military of both the exercise dates and the "non-provocative nature" of the drill.

Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear told reporters Friday that the United States suspended the UFG exercises Thursday, and then resumed them, reports CNN, after North Korea fired artillery shells across the Demilitarized Zone.

"This would be a horrible time for North Korea to do anything, [as] all of South Korea is mobilized conducting wartime exercises," Hertling told Blitzer. "But at the same time, this is something that North Korea does almost yearly on these exercises."

In addition, Seoul has grown over the years, so now North Korean artillery can hit the city, adding more danger to the situation, said Hertling.

Hill said that the situation is also different now because the relationship between China and North Korea is not what it used to be.

"The Chinese really don't have the contacts they used to within the North Korean context," said Hill. "And when Kim Jong Un personally walked his uncle out of a party meeting and had him killed the next day, this was quite a blow to Chinese influence in North Korea."

Further, he believes that the Chinese "must be furious, once again, with the North Koreans."

"I agree these things happen every year and people find ways to de-escalate but we're dealing with a very fidgety and very difficult north Korean leadership, a man who continues to try to kind of prove himself and the question is at what point will he or can he pull back?" said Hill.

Hertling, though, said that "truthfully, South Korean troops are in danger every day while patroling along the demilitarized zone between the two countries," and "things are happening daily that most of America doesn't really understand. It's just the level of this provocation is significant for this time of year and as the ambassador said, it seems to be greater this year than it has in years past."

But still, Hertling said, that as the countries consider the war ongoing, as there has never been a peace agreement, so there is "no peace between these two countries. It's actually a situation of daily basis of conflict."

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North and South Korea are in a "crisis moment," U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said Friday, and he is "not sure there is a way to de-escalate" growing tensions between the two countries.
ambassador, kim jong un, south korea, difficult
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2015-35-21
Friday, 21 Aug 2015 03:35 PM
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