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SKorea Ponders Sending Arms to Ukraine 06/21 06:09

   

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea said Thursday that it would consider 
sending arms to Ukraine, a major policy change that was suggested after Russia 
and North Korea rattled the region and beyond by signing a pact to come to each 
other's defense in the event of war.

   The comments from a senior presidential official came hours after North 
Korea's state media released the details of the agreement, which observers said 
could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end 
of the Cold War. It comes at a time when Russia faces growing isolation over 
the war in Ukraine and both countries face escalating standoffs with the West.

   According to the text of the deal published by North Korea's official Korean 
Central News Agency, or KCNA, if either country gets invaded and is pushed into 
a state of war, the other must deploy "all means at its disposal without delay" 
to provide "military and other assistance." But the agreement also says that 
such actions must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 
51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes a U.N. member state's right 
to self-defense.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed 
the pact at a summit Wednesday in Pyongyang. Both described it as a major 
upgrade of bilateral relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural 
and humanitarian ties.

   The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol issued a statement 
condemning the agreement, calling it a threat to his country's security and a 
violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and warned that it would have 
negative consequences on Seoul's relations with Moscow.

   "It's absurd that two parties with a history of launching wars of invasion 
-- the Korean War and the war in Ukraine -- are now vowing mutual military 
cooperation on the premise of a preemptive attack by the international 
community that will never happen," Yoon's office said.

   At the United Nations in New York, South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul 
called it "deplorable" that Russia would act in violation of multiple U.N. 
sanctions resolutions against North Korea that Moscow voted for.

   Yoon's national security adviser, Chang Ho-jin, said that Seoul would 
reconsider the issue of providing arms to Ukraine to help the country fight off 
Russia's full-scale invasion.

   South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by 
the United States, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine, 
while joining U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But it hasn't 
directly provided arms to Kyiv, citing a longstanding policy of not supplying 
weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.

   Speaking to reporters in Hanoi, where he traveled after Pyongyang, Putin 
said Thursday that supplying weapons to Ukraine would be "a very big mistake" 
on South Korea's part. If that happens, Putin said that it would lead to 
"decisions that are unlikely to please the current leadership of South Korea."

   He said that South Korea "shouldn't worry" about the agreement, if Seoul 
isn't planning any aggression against Pyongyang.

   Asked whether Ukrainian strikes on Russian regions with Western-supplied 
weapons could be considered an act of aggression, Putin said that "it needs to 
be additionally studied, but it's close to it," and that Moscow isn't ruling 
out supplying weapons to North Korea in response.

   A number of NATO allies, including the United States and Germany, recently 
authorized Ukraine to hit some targets on Russian soil with the long-range 
weapons they are supplying to Kyiv. Earlier this month, a Western official and 
a U.S. senator said that Ukraine has used American weapons to strike inside 
Russia.

   Putin has said in response that Moscow "reserves the right" to arm Western 
adversaries, and reiterated that notion on Thursday.

   "I said, including in Pyongyang, that in this case we reserve the right to 
supply weapons to other regions of the world," he said. "Keeping in mind our 
agreements with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, I'm not ruling that 
out."

   The summit between Kim and Putin came as the U.S. and its allies expressed 
growing concern over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides 
Moscow with badly needed munitions for the war in Ukraine, in exchange for 
economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat 
posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and missile program.

   Following their summit, Kim said the two countries had a "fiery friendship," 
and that the deal was their "strongest-ever treaty," putting the relationship 
at the level of an alliance. He vowed full support for Russia's invasion of 
Ukraine. Putin called it a "breakthrough document," reflecting shared desires 
to move relations to a higher level.

   North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961, which 
experts say necessitated Moscow's military intervention if the North came under 
attack. The deal was discarded after the collapse of the USSR, replaced by one 
in 2000 that offered weaker security assurances.

   There's ongoing debate on how strong of a security commitment the deal 
entails. While some analysts see the agreement as a full restoration of the 
countries' Cold War-era alliance, others say the deal seems more symbolic than 
substantial.

   Ankit Panda, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International 
Peace, said that the text appeared to be carefully worded as to not imply 
automatic military intervention.

   But "the big picture here is that both sides are willing to put down on 
paper, and show the world, just how widely they intend to expand the scope of 
their cooperation," he said.

   The deal was made as Putin visited North Korea for the first time in nearly 
a quarter-century, a trip that showcased their personal and geopolitical ties. 
Kim hugged Putin twice at the airport, their motorcade rolling past giant 
Russian flags and Putin portraits, before a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang's 
main square attended by what appeared to be tens of thousands of spectators.

   According to KCNA, the agreement also states that Pyongyang and Moscow must 
not enter into agreements with third parties, if they infringe on the "core 
interests" of any of them and mustn't participate in actions that threaten 
those interests.

   KCNA said that the agreement requires the countries to take steps to prepare 
joint measures for the purpose of strengthening their defense capabilities to 
prevent war and protect regional and global peace and security. The agency 
didn't specify what those steps are, or whether they would include combined 
military training and other cooperation.

   The agreement also calls for the countries to actively cooperate in efforts 
to establish a "just and multipolar new world order," KCNA said, underscoring 
how the countries are aligning in face of their separate confrontations with 
the United States.

   How the pact affects Russia's relations with South Korea is a key 
development to watch, said Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center in 
Washington and director of the North Korea-focused 38 North website.

   "Seoul had already signed onto sanctions against Russia for its invasion of 
Ukraine, souring its relations with Moscow. Now with any ambiguity of Russia's 
partnership with North Korea removed, how will Seoul respond?" she said. "Is 
there a point where it decides to cut or suspend diplomatic ties with Russia or 
expel its ambassador? And have we reached it?"

   Kim has made Russia his priority in recent months as he pushes a foreign 
policy aimed at expanding relations with countries confronting Washington, 
embracing the idea of a "new Cold War" and trying to display a united front in 
Putin's broader conflicts with the West.

   Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with 
the pace of both Kim's weapons tests, and combined military exercises involving 
the U.S., South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

   The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that 
involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on South Korea with balloons, and 
Seoul broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

 
 
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