SEOUL, South Korea – Relations on the divided Korean peninsula plunged to their lowest point in a decade Tuesday when the North declared it was cutting all ties to Seoul as punishment for blaming the communists for the sinking of a South Korean warship.
The announcement came a day after South Korea took steps that were seen as among the strongest it could take short of military action. Seoul said it would slash trade with the North and deny permission to its cargo ships to pass through South Korean waters. It also resumed a propaganda offensive – including blaring Western music into the North and dropping leaflets by balloon.
North Korea said it was cutting all ties with the South until President Lee Myung-bak leaves office in early 2013, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul late Tuesday.
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification said it would expel all South Korean government officials working at a joint industrial park in the northern border town of Kaesong, and South Korean ships and airliners would be banned from passing through its territory.
The North’s committee said it would start “all-out counterattacks” against the South’s psychological warfare, and called its moves “the first phase” of punitive measures against Seoul, suggesting more action could follow.
South Korea wants to bring North Korea before the U.N. Security Council over the sinking, and has U.S. support. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to visit South Korea today.
Clinton was in Beijing on Tuesday, wrapping up two days of intense strategic and economic talks with China, which responded coolly to U.S. appeals that it support international action against North Korea over the warship sinking.