Will attack South if drill goes ahead: North Korea

North said the attack would be even stronger than last month`s shelling that killed four people.

Seoul/Beijing: North Korea said on Friday it would strike again at the South if a live-firing drill by Seoul on a disputed island went ahead, with an even stronger response than last month`s shelling that killed four people.

The announcement on North Korean official news agency KCNA came as South Korea readied for firing drills on Yeonpyeong island near a disputed maritime border with the North for the first time since November`s exchange of artillery fire.

"The strike will play out a more serious situation than on November 23 in terms of the strength and scope of the strike," KCNA said.

A leading South Korean defense analyst said he doubted the North would carry out its threat, which rattled financial markets, and South Korea`s Defense Ministry said the drill planned for December 18-21 would go ahead.

The North had said its November shelling was a response to South Korean "provocations" after an artillery battery on the island fired in what Seoul said was a routine drill.

North Korea`s warning came after Seoul promised a more robust response to any further attacks on its territory. The shelling of the island was the first time since the Korean war that the North had attacked South Korean territory.

"They would have to be committing to a full-out war if they did that (struck again)," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, an expert on North Korea`s military strategy.

"What`s likely is they will do something as a face-saving action, such as firing their own artillery near the disputed waters," he said.

The won fell slightly in offshore forward trading against the dollar, with the 1-month non-deliverable dollar/won forwards rising to as high as 1,159 soon after the news broke from around 1,155.

China urges US to play constructive role

China, the North`s main backer, has said that Pyongyang had promised restraint and the threat of a new attack by the North came as China told visiting US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg that the two big powers should cooperate more in defusing tension on the Korean peninsula.

It also came as US diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson visited Pyongyang in an effort to "reduce the tension on the Korean peninsula.

China`s top diplomat, Dai Bingguo, urged closer coordination over the Korean peninsula during talks with Steinberg, the second most senior official in the US State Department, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

Steinberg was in Beijing for three days up to Friday to press China to do more to bring to heel its ally, North Korea, which last month sparked alarm by shelling the island and disclosing advances in uranium enrichment which could give it a new path to make nuclear weapons.

China has avoided publicly condemning its long-time ally over the deadly shelling and nuclear moves, and instead pleaded with other powers to embrace fresh talks with North Korea.

North`s actions designed to win negotiations

North Korea`s threatened strike came as is sought the restart of six-party nuclear talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

It wants the talks to resume without preconditions, something Washington and South Korea have ruled out as they do not want to be seen to be rewarding Pyongyang for its hostile actions.

Analysts say the North uses the threat of attacks and even nuclear conflict to win concessions such as food and economic aid at talks over its nuclear stockpile.

US nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who visited the Yongbyon reprocessing facility last month, has raised concerns that the North had alternative sites for uranium enrichment and newspapers have reported South Korean intelligence officials saying it may be readying for a third nuclear test and had three or four more uranium enrichment sites.

Bureau Report

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