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(2nd LD) Park pledges strong defense to render N. Korean nukes useless

2013/10/01 20:26

(ATTN: ADDS Park's comments in final 2 paras)

SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday South Korea will build strong defense capabilities to deter threats from North Korea and render its nuclear weapons useless.

Park made the remark during an Armed Forces Day ceremony, saying the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is "very grave" as North Korea is persistently pursuing nuclear weapons development in an effort to build more sophisticated bombs.

President Park Geun-hye (R) waves her hand on a motorcade to soldiers during a ceremony held in Seoul Air Base for Armed Forces Day on Oct. 1, 2013 with Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (L) (Yonhap)

"We have to build strong deterrence against North Korea until the North abandons its nuclear program and makes the right choice for the people of North Korea and peace on the Korean Peninsula," Park said during the ceremony at an airbase in Seongnam, just south of Seoul.

Park also stressed that the reason for the military's existence lies in preventing war.

"While maintaining strong (South) Korea-U.S. joint defense system, the government will secure anti-weapons of mass destruction capabilities, such as kill chain and the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, at an early date to make North Korea realize on its own that its nuclear weapons and missiles ... are useless."

   The kill chain system is designed to detect signs of impending missile or nuclear attacks and launch pre-emptive strikes. The KAMD calls for arming Seoul with the ability to track and shoot down the North's low-flying, short- and medium-range missiles.

"Only when we are backed by strong national defense that does not allow provocations can we bring North Korea onto a genuine path of change," Park said. "I hope you will do your duties with a mindset that the country's fate and unification of the Korean Peninsula hinge on the shoulder of every member of the Armed Forces."

   Her remarks came as South Korea has been speeding up its indigenous missile program to bolster capabilities before regaining its wartime operational control of its troops in December 2015 amid growing security threats on the peninsula.

The future direction of the bilateral alliance between Seoul and Washington is expected to dominate the agenda at the upcoming Security Consultative Meeting between Chuck Hagel, the U.S. secretary of defense, and his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin on Wednesday. The evaluation of South Korean forces' capabilities is the key factor in making the decision on the timing of the planned transition, according to Seoul officials.

When Pyongyang raised tension with bellicose rhetoric in April, Seoul's defense ministry unveiled a new contingency plan that allows its military to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if it shows signs of an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South.

South Korea currently operates 48 PAC-2 missiles imported from Germany, which have an interception rate of less than 40 percent. As part of a mid-term defense plan, the military plans to upgrade the current system to "hit-to-kill" PAC-3 developed by Lockheed Martin with improved guidance accuracy, and adopt military satellites and spy drones.

In addition to the low-tier missile system, Seoul has been eyeing a high-altitude, long-range missile system, like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) also developed by Lockheed Martin, according to industry sources and military officials.

Although there are calls to adopt the long-range missile defense to establish a multilayered missile shield against the North, Seoul's defense ministry has remained cautious over the American Army program as it could spur a regional arms race involving China and further contribute to mounting costs in the national missile program.

"Under the geographical environment on the Korean Peninsula, establishing the low-altitude missile defense is more efficient than the high-altitude missile defense," a senior ministry official said on the condition of anonymity. "The South Korean military will cooperate with the U.S. in intelligence sharing to detect North Korean missiles to bolster the KAMD."

   North Korea's nuclear program has been a top security concern for the region. In February, the communist nation conducted its third nuclear test, two months after it successfully fired off a long-range rocket.

The two tests worsened concern that Pyongyang is closer to building a nuclear-capable missile.

North Korea is believed to have over 1,000 missiles with varying capabilities as well as multiple launchers that can shoot rockets, putting South Korea well within its missile range.

For nearly a decade, South Korea and four other regional powers have sought to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid and other concessions. But the on-again-off-again six-party talks, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and the United States, produced no lasting results.

The talks have been suspended since the last session in late 2008.

At a banquet commemorating the Armed Forces Day held later Tuesday, Park said the strong ties between South Korea and the United States will serve as the key to ensuring peace in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world.

"The United States shed blood with us during the Korean War, and has made a great contribution to achieving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula after the war," Park said. "Based on our strong deterrence against North Korea, the South Korea-U.S. alliance will develop into a comprehensive strategic alliance that protects the security on the peninsula and plays an even larger role for regional stability and world peace."

   jschang@yna.co.kr

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