SKorea names new minister for NKorea
By JAESOON CHANG,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 24 minutes ago
SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea warned Monday that it does not engage in "empty talk" and has "guns and bayonets" aimed at its southern neighbor, heightening tensions surrounding its threat to take military action to counter what it calls South Korean plans to invade.
But South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made clear that he won't bend to the North's saber-rattling. On Monday, he named a security expert hawkish on Pyongyang as his unification minister in charge of relations with the communist neighbor.
Like the president, Hyun In-taek is a strong critic of the "Sunshine Policy" espoused by Lee's two liberal predecessors, who sought to pave the way for reconciliation by offering the North unconditional aid.
Analysts say Hyun's appointment suggests Lee will stick to his hard-line policy on the North.
"I'll make efforts to back the president's philosophy and policy so as to move the South-North relations forward," Hyun told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate and declined to comment on views that he is a hard-liner.
Over the weekend, North Korea's military accused South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of plotting an invasion of the North and warned of strong military steps in retaliation and "an all-out confrontational posture." South Korea denied it was planning to invade and put its military on alert.
South Korea said Monday it had detected no unusual moves by the North's military, and Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said Seoul will cope with the situation in a "calm" manner.
Tensions between the two Koreas, which technically remain at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, have been escalating since Lee took office nearly a year ago pledging to get tough with the nuclear-armed neighbor. The North since has cut off all ties and suspended several joint projects.
The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper renewed the country's warnings Monday, saying it would "destroy and wipe out" invaders in "one strike" if South Korean "war maniacs ignite the fire of war."
"The Lee Myung-bak group should bear in mind that our guns and bayonets ... are aimed at their throats," the paper said in a commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "We know no empty talk."
Such threats are not uncommon and are typically issued through state-run media. Saturday's threats, however, were read by a uniformed army officer flanked by military flags _ the first time since 1998 an officer has served as messenger rather than state media, according to South Korean officials.
Despite the threats, Seoul's deputy nuclear negotiator was on a five-day visit to North Korea _ the highest-level visit to the North in a year. Nuclear envoy Hwang Joon-kook and his team were expected to return to Seoul on Tuesday, officials said.
The visit is seen as an indication Pyongyang has not abandoned a 2007 disarmament-for-aid pact signed by six regional powers.
South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China promised North Korea _ which tested a nuclear bomb in 2006 _ aid in exchange for dismantling its atomic program, but the disarmament process has been deadlocked for months over how to verify the North's past nuclear activities.
Analysts say the North's latest saber rattling also is a negotiating tactic aimed at Seoul and Washington ahead of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday.
"North Korean wants to draw Obama's attention," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. He said Pyongyang wants to use the tensions with Seoul to make a case for its long-standing demand for diplomatic ties with Washington _ the regime's top foreign policy goal.
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