02/20/2009, 00.00
KOREA – UNITED STATES
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If North attacks, we shall respond appropriately, says Seoul

The South Korean government abandons conciliatory tone, announces military response in case of a missile attack from the North. Radio Pyongyang warns against “the worst crisis” possible. Kim Jong-il promotes hawk to vice chairmanship of North Koera’s National Defence Commission. US Secretary of State Clinton says United States concerned about succession in North Korea.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea will retaliate if North Korea attacks its naval ships in waters near their disputed Northern Limit Line, the defence minister told lawmakers Friday.

Defence Minister Lee Sang-hee said that in addition to “preventive” measures, appropriate responses to an attack will be taken “in the shortest possible time so that it won't develop into a full-scale war.” he did not exclude the possibility of striking bases Pyongyang will likely use in launching missiles against South Korea.

International observers have taken notice of the unusually strong language coming from South Korea’s defence chief.

South Korean authorities have traditionally employed softer and more conciliatory language when addressing the North and they have rarely spoken so openly about an attack.

More intense North Korean war rhetoric might be the cause for this shift.

Yesterday the North Korean military said in fact that it was "fully ready" for war with the South. State-run media have warned that clashes between the two sides could break out at any time.

North Korea’s state news agency KCNA published a press statement released by the Korean People's Army (KPA) that describe the South Korean government as a “group of traitors,” warning them that the KPA was “fully ready for an all-out confrontation.”

Radio Pyongyang said relations “have reached the worst crisis” possible, adding that “nobody knows when a military clash will occur.”

In the meantime the war of nerves with the South goes on. KCNA announced today that General O Kuk-Ryol had been appointed vice chairman of the National Defence Commission.

The general, known for his hawkish views, has always advocated a hard-line stance vis-à-vis South Korea.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified source from the North as saying that O's son is a close friend of Kim's youngest and third son, 25-year-old Jong-Un, who has been picked to succeed the North Korean dictator.

The winds of war blowing over the Korean peninsula were also at the centre of talks between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean leaders.

Ms Clinton said that relations with North Korea will not improve unless Pyongyang refrains “from the provocative and unhelpful war of words it has been engaged in."

The top United States diplomat, who left Seoul for Beijing today, warned the Communist regime not to carry out any missile test.

She did not hide the US administration’s “concern” of a possible crisis over the succession of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.

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