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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 214 (June 14, 2012)

President Lee: N. Korea's Belligerent Threats Seen as for Internal Purposes

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be ratcheting up threats against South Korea in an attempt to help new leader Kim Jong-un consolidate his grip on power, but the South does not rule out and is fully prepared for the possibility of new provocations, President Lee Myung-bak said on June 11.

   In an interview with local and foreign media, President Lee also urged Japan to take humanitarian steps to address long-running grievances over Tokyo's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, saying Japan is an "assailant" and Korea is its "victim."

   On the eurozone fiscal crisis, Lee voiced confidence about South Korea's economy, saying the crisis won't have much direct impact on the local financial and foreign exchange markets, as the country's economic fundamentals have strengthened since the 2008 global financial crisis.

   Lee also said the government does not see a need to formulate a supplementary budget.

   The interview with Seoul's Korea Economic Daily, the Bloomberg and Reuters news agencies, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper, France's Le Figaro daily and Mexico's El Reforma newspaper came ahead of Lee's attendance of a G20 summit set for next week in Mexico.

   In recent months, North Korea has sharply escalated threats against the South's government and media. Earlier this month, the North's military threatened to strike major media firms in Seoul, accusing them of insulting new leader Kim Jong-un, and releasing the map coordinates of their headquarters.

   "Looking at what North Korea releases every day, there are a lot of hard-line statements," Lee said in the interview. "But this can be understood as because of internal reasons aimed at stabilizing the regime after the hereditary power transfer."

   On the surface, the North's new leadership appears to be gradually gaining stability, but the regime is faced with a string of hard issues, such as giving up its nuclear programs and improving its human rights records, Lee said.

   Lee also said the South does not rule out the possibility of the North making additional provocations and is prepared for all possibilities, renewing his commitment to respond strongly to any North Korean provocations.

   Lee stepped up pressure on Japan over the issue of sex slaves, known as "comfort women."

   "As the assailant, Japan should take humanitarian steps for victims without fail," he said. "If we put the Korea-Japan relations in a direct way, Japan is an assailant and South Korea is in the position of its victim."

   Lee urged Tokyo to muster up courage to address the issue.

   Historians say that tens of thousands of Asian women, mostly Koreans, were forced to work at front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during the war. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

   Lee voiced concerns that the eurozone fiscal crisis could lead to the global economic slump. But the South's economy is better poised to cope with the crisis, compared with the 2008 global financial crisis, as its fundamentals have since been strengthened, he said.

   "Direct impact (from the eurozone crisis) is unlikely to be big," he said.


S. Korea's Military Vows Relentless Retaliation If Provoked by N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military warned on June 11 that it would "immediately punish the core forces of provocations" if provoked again by North Korea, as the North vowed to attack major South Korean media for insulting its top leader.

   The South's warning came after its Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) held an unscheduled readiness exercise earlier in the day to check out its defense posture involving its ballistic missile command, front-line artillery units and the Air Force.

   The South's military, which remains on heightened alert following a series of deadly North Korean provocations, vows to retaliate if attacked. Seoul, the South Korean capital city of more than 10 million people, lies within range of North Korean artillery and rockets.

   "Throughout today's readiness exercise, we confirmed that our military has the ability and posture to immediately punish the core forces of provocations if provoked by the enemy," Maj. Gen. Lee Young-joo said.

   In Early May, the North's military said its artillery has been targeting the Seoul headquarters of some major South Korean media outlets, which it accused of hurling unbearable insults at the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

   It also denounced the South Korean government of President Lee Myung-bak for abetting the anti-Pyongyang media campaign.

   North Korea has made similar verbal threats against South Korean media in the past, but this one is special in its specificity as the North listed the coordinates of some of the media offices.

   The June 11 exercise was ordered by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin after Pyongyang ramped up its bellicose rhetoric, JCS officials said.

   There has been concern that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make amends for the failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war, having signed no peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.