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« North Korea Keeps World Guessing | Main | Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt »

Lee vows to make N Korea pay price for provocations

President Lee Myung-bak speaks at Cheong Wa Dae during a nationally-televised address, Monday, regarding the recent provocation by North Korea. / Korea Times photo by Wang Tae-seog

President Lee Myung-bak vowed Monday to make North Korea pay the price for its deadly artillery attack last week on a South Korean border island, saying he doesn’t expect the Kim Jong-il regime to abandon military brinksmanship and nuclear weapons.

He also apologized to the nation for “failing to protect the lives and property of the people,” saying he understands very well why people were disappointed with the way the country’s military responded to the shelling.

“Our people learned a lesson from the attack that endurance and tolerance will spawn nothing but more serious provocations by North Korea,” Lee said in a nationally-televised address.

“For the past two decades, we’ve made efforts to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue and cooperation. But the reality is that North Korea doesn’t stop provocative acts and is still developing nuclear weapons.”

Lee hinted at adopting a tougher stance on Pyongyang, saying he will work closely with the international community to seek punitive action against its behavior.

“It’s time to act, rather than speak,” he said.

Later in the day, he made an unscheduled visit to the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command in Seoul to call for a “resolute” response to any additional provocation by North Korea, a presidential aide said.

The two allies launched their largest-ever naval exercise in the West Sea Sunday, in which the nuclear-powered 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS George Washington and E-8C surveillance planes are participating.

The united show of force is in response to North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island near the western inter-Korean border last Tuesday, which claimed four lives — two marines and two civilians — and devastated dozens of civilian homes.

“North Korea indiscriminately shelled the island where some 1,400 residents were peacefully living. A military attack against civilians is strictly prohibited even in times of war. It is a crime against humanity,” Lee said in the address.

“Only a few meters away from where shells landed, there was a school where classes were going on. I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is indifferent to the lives of little children.”

The address came one day after China proposed urgent talks among nuclear envoys from the six nations engaged in the stalled denuclearization dialogue to discuss the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul made it clear that it was meaningless to resume the talks without addressing North Korea’s belligerent acts.

“The first thing to do is to hold North Korea responsible for its recent attacks and secure its commitment to maintaining peace,” said senior presidential secretary for public relations Hong Sang-pyo.

Diplomatic sources here said President Lee expressed such feelings when he met on Sunday with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who arrived in Seoul Saturday night at the order of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

“Just hours after the meeting, the Chinese government called for the resumption of the nuke talks, which North Korea has long demanded. It was very embarrassing,” a source said.

Beijing faces growing international calls to use its influence on Pyongyang to stop its provocative acts. Seoul and its allies believe North Korea has taken advantage of the nuclear talks to win economic and political concessions from its negotiating partners, only pretending to give up its atomic program.

In the address, Lee also vowed to press ahead with defense reform and enhance combat readiness to counter possible North Korean attacks in the future.

It is either remarkable planning or interesting timing, perhaps both, that the US Navy deploys the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group to the Western Pacific on Tuesday.

US Deploys Carrier Strike Group, US Air Force to Western Pacific

The three surface ships will depart Naval Station San Diego on Tuesday and join Vinson for a Composite Training Unit Exercise, or COMPTUEX, off the Southern California coast before heading west, Hicks said.

Looks like the proverbial shiite is heading to the NORKs and it is about time.  Perhaps Iran and the NORK class of fool hearted dingbats can collude and contrive an exit strategy?

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