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Koreans Remain on Edge Over Military Tensions

December 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: It was quieter on the Korean Peninsula today than it’s been all week, but North and South remained on edge.

North Korea marked the 19th anniversary of ruler Kim Jong-Il becoming supreme military commander. The celebration in the North came on the heels of this week’s forceful displays of South Korean might on land and air, with two days of well-publicized live-fire drills.

Despite threats beforehand, the North did not respond militarily. But state-run media condemned the war games as a South Korean plot.

MAN (through translator): The puppet warmongers are doing it to scheme a war to invade North Korea.

MARGARET WARNER: And a senior North Korean defense official warned his country would wage a sacred war using nuclear weapons, if it’s attacked. The war of words was the latest sign of rising tensions on the peninsula. In March, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. Then, last month, the North shelled a South Korean island in disputed waters, killing four.

This morning on ABC, Vice President Biden suggested a reason for the North’s recent aggression.

U.S VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: They’re going through a trend, a power transition. The – the great leader is about to and has designated his young son to be his successor. I’m sure there’s a lot of muscle flexing in the near term to satisfy the military that the – that the successor is going to be able to be – handle the deal.

But it is – it is dicey. It is – it is reason for concern.

MARGARET WARNER: Amidst all this, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson returned Monday from a private visit to Pyongyang. He said North Korean officials told him they were willing to re-admit international nuclear inspectors, sell their spent nuclear fuel rods, and establish a North-South hotline to resolve conflicts.

But in Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. has little reason to believe North Korean promises.

P.J. CROWLEY, State Department Spokesman: North Korea talks a great game. They always do. The real issue is what will they do.

MARGARET WARNER: A South Korean foreign ministry-linked think tank predicted today tensions will remain high, and said the North may be planning a third nuclear test next year.