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President Lee Vows to Take on N. Korea in Daring Manner in Case of Attack

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak vowed on June 29 to take on North Korea in a "daring" manner if the communist nation attacked the South, as he marked the 10th anniversary of a deadly naval skirmish that claimed the lives of six South Korean sailors.

   President Lee made the pledge, saying all previous North Korean provocations were premeditated, not accidental, including the 2002 naval clash, the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship and the artillery attack on a border island in the same year, all near the western sea border.

   It was the first time Lee has attended a ceremony marking the 2002 skirmish.

   "As supreme commander of the armed forces, I will ensure an iron-tight defense of the Republic of Korea," Lee said during the ceremony. "I will firmly safeguard the Republic of Korea by responding sternly to any provocations and standing up against any aggression in a daring manner."

   The 2002 clash is one of a series of battles between the two Koreas near the tense maritime border off the Korean Peninsula's west coast. Started by a surprise North Korean attack, the clash left six South Korean sailors dead, 18 more wounded and a naval vessel sunk.

   North Korea is believed to have suffered 30 deaths or injuries.

   During the ceremony, Lee called out the names of the six dead sailors.

   "They threw themselves out to defend the country. The country will never forget them," he said.

   The battle took place when relations between the two Koreas seemed to have warmed significantly under then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of engaging the North with massive economic assistance.

   "We might have indulged in an illusion even for a while at the time that there wouldn't be war anymore and we might see peaceful unification soon," Lee said. "But at that very time, North Korea mounted a direct attack on the South."

   Lee said, however, that the South's ultimate goal is to realize peace, coexistence and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, and urged Pyongyang to "discard its Cold War-style thinking" and abandon all efforts to stage armed provocations.

   "We are prepared to cooperate with North Korea for the sake of peace, co-existence and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," Lee said.

   Relations between the two Koreas thawed significantly following their first-ever summit in 2000, but the ties have soured rapidly since 2008 as Pyongyang strongly protested Lee's policy to link aid to the North to progress in efforts to rid the North of its nuclear programs.


President Lee Renews Commitment to Strong Counterattack against N.K. Provocation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak on July 3 reiterated his commitment never to tolerate North Korean provocations, warning that South Korea will strike back at the socialist nation several times as strongly as it is attacked.

   President Lee made the remark in a meeting with an advisory group of social elders, talking about last week's 10th anniversary of a deadly naval skirmish with North Korea that left six South Korean sailors dead. Lee said he believes the clash was premeditated by Pyongyang, not accidental.

   "We are making it clear that we will respond to whatever provocations North Korea makes with (a counterstrike) several times" stronger than the North's action, Lee said, according to presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha. "We also asked China to relay this position of ours to North Korea."

   China also has a position that it can no longer take North Korea's side in the international community if Pyongyang makes additional provocations, Lee said.

   Relations between the two Koreas turned sour as North Korea protested strongly against Lee's policy to link aid to the impoverished nation to progress in efforts to end its nuclear weapons programs.

   Their ties plunged further to a near-irreparable level after North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship and bombarded a border island in 2010, killing a total of 50 South Koreans, including two civilians.


S. Korea Says N. Korean Leader Unlikely to Face Challenge to His Power

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unlikely to face any challenges to his power as there is no alternative to him in a country that has built a personality cult around his family, a presidential advisory body on unification said on July 4.

   "In a short-term perspective, it is believed that there will be no factor that could challenge for Kim Jong-un's succession to power," the National Unification Advisory Council said in a recent report to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

   Kim took over the communist country following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

   The advisory body made the assessment on grounds that North Korea has been ruled by Kim's family since its foundation in 1948 and that China supports the new leader, believed to be in his late 20s.

   China's endorsement is widely seen crucial in keeping the Kim family dynasty as the impoverished North has long relied on diplomatic support and economic aid from its key ally.

   Still, the advisory body cautioned that there could be friction among officials over a power reshuffle and distribution of resources in the future. It also said there could be a policy dispute over whether to keep the country's military-first, or "songun," politics.

   Kim's late father championed the songun politics and channeled the country's scarce resources to the military, which had served as a key backbone of his totalitarian rule.

   Kim Jong-un has also made a series of inspection trips to military units in an apparent move to bolster his support from the military. Top North Korean military officials have repeatedly pledged loyalty to their new supreme commander.

   The council said Kim Jong-un appears likely to maintain the status quo in the country's domestic and foreign policy as he has vowed to uphold his father's dying wish.

   It also said it is difficult to expect any change in the North's economic policy in a short period of time, despite Kim's reported comment on capitalistic economic reform.

   Seoul has proposed providing aid along with regional powers if Pyongyang embraces openness to develop its faltering economy.

   In December, North Korea said that "the South Korean puppets and foolish politicians around the world should not expect any change" from North Korea.

   Separately, the council said that the North may fire a missile or conduct a third nuclear test to try to boost its bargaining leverage in preparations for possible talks with the United States after the U.S. presidential election in November.

   Many analysts had speculated that the North, which carried out two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, may conduct a third nuclear test to compensate for its botched rocket launch.

   The long-range rocket exploded soon after lift-off in April. The North claimed that it was designed to put a satellite into orbit, but South Korea and the U.S. said it was a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology.

   In June, North Korea said it has no immediate plan to conduct a nuclear test.