US ‘concerned’ over possible Korean conflict – NYT

Washington reportedly believes that rising tensions could lead to a major confrontation

The US is worried that North Korea could “take some form of lethal military action” against its southern neighbor, the New York Times reported on Thursday, citing sources. However, Washington does not believe that Pyongyang is ready to risk a full-scale war with Seoul, which would most likely result in a US intervention, the article said.

According to unnamed US officials cited by the paper, Washington has taken note of what they described as more aggressive statements by Kim Jong-un in recent weeks, as well as frequent missile and artillery tests.

Last month, Kim ruled out Korean reunification, denouncing its neighbor as a “colonial, subordinate state” whose principles were completely irreconcilable with Pyongyang’s. Kim’s sister, Yo-jong, also warned South Korea of a “baptism by fire” in the event of “a slight provocation.”

US officials believe that in light of recent statements, North Korea could do something resembling its powerful artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, which followed South Korean exercises in the area. At the time, Pyongyang fired hundreds of shells, killing two South Korean soldiers and wounding more than a dozen.

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Seoul retaliated at the time, claiming to have killed several North Korean service members. While the exchange was widely regarded as one of the most serious escalations on the peninsula, it still stopped short of sparking a full-scale engagement.

Nevertheless, US officials interviewed by the NYT seriously doubt that Pyongyang is about to start a full-scale attack, saying that they have not seen “concrete signs that North Korea is gearing up for combat.” They also noted, the paper reported, that Kim appears to have boosted his military and diplomatic position and is perhaps emboldened by a recent rapprochement with Russia.

A full-scale North Korean attack “would almost certainly mean war with the United States,” the article notes, suggesting that Pyongyang could use its vast conventional arsenal to bombard South Korean cities, prompting Seoul and Washington into retaliation. North Korea is also estimated to have up to 30 nuclear weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Washington currently has around 30,000 troops stationed on the peninsula, who regularly take part in joint exercises with South Korean troops. Live-fire drills took place earlier this month, condemned by North Korea as “reckless war maneuvers.”

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