Image: Kim Kwan-jin
Yonhap News Agency  /  EPA
Defense Minister nominee Kim Kwan-jin, speaking at the National Assembly in Seoul, said: "If there are further provocations, we will definitely use aircraft to bomb North Korea."
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/3/2010 5:40:33 AM ET 2010-12-03T10:40:33

South Korea said Friday it would bomb North Korea if it tries a repeat of last week's attack, with the United States warning of an "immediate threat" from Pyongyang.

Kim Kwan-jin, a retired general, was speaking at a parliamentary meeting confirming him as new defense minister, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said North Korea threatened the region and the world.

The hearing is a formality as South Korea's National Assembly does not have the power to reject Lee's appointment.

"If there are further provocations, we will definitely use aircraft to bomb North Korea," Kim said, when asked how he would respond to another attack after last week's North Korean bombardment of an island near their disputed border, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians.

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Story: South Korean refugees struggle after shelling

Kim said it will be difficult for North Korea to conduct a full-scale war because of its weak economy and worries over the success of a plan to transfer power from leader Kim Jong Il to his young, untested son, Kim Jong Un.

The tough words came as president Lee Myung-bak's government suffered intense criticism that the response to the North's Nov. 23 shelling was weak, and over a stunning revelation that the South's spy chief dismissed information in August indicating North Korea might attack the front-line island.

Despite the bold declarations, questions have been raised about Lee's readiness — and even willingness — to stand up to the North.

The president has been criticized for leading a military whose response to the attack was seen as too slow and too weak. The North fired 170 rounds, compared with 80 returned by South Korea.

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Satellite photos showed only about 10 South Korean rounds landed near North Korea's army barracks along the west coast, according to the office of lawmaker Kwon Young-se, who said he saw the images provided Thursday by the National Intelligence Service.

For nearly 60 years, the two Koreas have faced each other across one of the world's most heavily armed borders. They have never signed a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Targeting Seoul
Also Friday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea has boosted the number of multiple-launch rockets capable of hitting Seoul, which is home to some 25 million people including its satellite cities.

Yonhap, citing an unidentified South Korean military source, said North Korea's rockets have increased by 100 pieces to about 5,200.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said it could not confirm the report because it involves military intelligence.

Meanwhile, top diplomats from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul were planning to meet in Washington on Monday to plot a strategy on dealing with the country. The three countries remain way of holding talks with the North.

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North Korean ally China, pushing for an emergency meeting of the six countries involved in denuclearization talks, is not going.

That means the discussions in Washington have little chance of breaking the impasse within the international community on a common approach to deal with the mounting tension on the Korean peninsula.

Although it won't be part of that meeting, China said Thursday it would keep a "close watch" on those talks and sounded upbeat about what they could achieve.

"As the situation on the Korean peninsula is highly complicated and sensitive, we expect the meeting to ease tensions and promote dialogue, rather than heighten tensions and intensify confrontation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.

She said she also hoped the three countries would give "positive consideration" to China's proposal for emergency consultations among the participants in the six-party talks. Earlier Thursday, Jiang said that Russia had expressed interest.

'An immediate threat'
South Korea's foreign ministry said a joint statement criticizing North Korea's shelling of South Korea was being prepared.

Japan's Mainichi newspaper said the statement would call on North Korea to stop provocative actions and enrichment of uranium — a second way for it to produce material for nuclear weapons.

U.S. and Japanese forces were beginning fresh maneuvers Friday, adding to tension. The exercises will involve about 44,500 personnel.

Japanese Defense Minister Toshiba Kitazawa described the maneuvers as "normal training" held every two years.

"Changes in the regional security situation are naturally taken into consideration," he said. "But this is not something that is targeted at any particular country."

Clinton said: "North Korea poses an immediate threat to the region around us, particularly to South Korea and Japan."

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"It poses a medium-term threat if it were to collapse to China, because of refugees and other instability. And it poses a long-term threat to the entire world, because of its nuclear program, and its export of weapons around the world," she added.

South Korea had exercised great restraint, Clinton said in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, according to a transcript released by the State Department.

The United States has been pushing China, North Korea's only major ally, to bring the reclusive country to heel. China has refused to blame North Korea for last week's attack, or for the earlier sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. A team of international investigators said the North torpedoed the ship.

More attacks?
On Wednesday, South Korea's spy chief said it was highly likely the North would attack its wealthy neighbor again.

Story: South Korea spy chief says more attacks likely

China, which said it would not play favorites in the dispute, has proposed emergency talks of the two Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. Only Russia has given its support.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kiang Yup responded to criticism that China was not doing enough with a thinly disguised slap at the U.S.-South Korea military maneuvers.

"Those who brandish weapons are seen to be justified, yet China is criticized for calling for talks. Is that justified?"

North Korea walked away from the six-nation disarmament-for-aid talks in April 2009 but has said it now wants to restart them.

On resumption of the nuclear negotiations, Seoul says North Korea must show real commitment to disarm. It has noted that Pyongyang has gone in the wrong direction with its revelation last month of a new uranium enrichment facility that would give it a second way to make nuclear bombs.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: U.S., S. Korea deploy 'gunboat diplomacy'

  1. Closed captioning of: U.S., S. Korea deploy 'gunboat diplomacy'

    >> the president of south korea said in a speech today that he had "failed to protect them from last we can's attack by north korea ." even as he spoke, a joint u.s.- south korean military exercise was under way in korean waters, an unmistakable show of course. richard engel has the latest from south korea .

    >> reporter: it's old fashioned gun boat diplomacy. just the presence of the 97,000 ton nuclear powered " uss george washington " aircraft carrier and its strike group is meant to send a blunt message to north korea . stop aggression against the south. and american deterrence isn't just at sea. on a snow covered firing range, american soldiers were testing their bradley fighting vehicles . it's a routine drill. not a sign commanders say the united states is preparing for war. the 28,500 american troops here in south korea have been put on a heightened state of readiness. they've increased surveillance of north korea and commanders here say they are ready to respond to any north korean aggression at a moment's notice. captain a.j. boyle says u.s. troops are mostly waiting, watching and ready.

    >> if given the call, we are ready to help defend the republic of korea .

    >> reporter: the mood among american forces is calm.

    >> i don't think they should be taken out of context.

    >> reporter: but the united states and south korea face a tough balancing accused, containing the often unpredictable north without provoking it. today, the south korean president promised repercussion it is the north attacked again. tough talk. but hours later, south korea canceled an artillery drill. south korea wants to push back, but doesn't want war. richard engel , nbc news, south korea .

Photos: Tension in the Koreas

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  1. A South Korean border guard mans a post through a fence draped with re-unification ribbons near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on Dec. 22, 2010. South Korea vowed Wednesday to "punish the enemy" as hundreds of troops, fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters prepared massive new drills near the heavily armed border a month after a deadly North Korean artillery attack. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A North Korean defector takes part in a candle light vigil on the eve of the one month anniversary of the North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Dec. 22. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A combination of photos shows North Korean soldiers taking part in a shooting exercise at a field in Kaepoong county, on the north side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, in this picture taken from south of the DMZ in Paju, about 31 miles north of Seoul, on Dec. 22. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. South Korean soldiers patrol a seashore in Dangjin, about 120 km 75 miles south of Seoul on December 21. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bae Bok-soon (R), an older sister of Bae Bok-chul, cries during the funeral for the two civilians who died when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, in Incheon, west of Seoul on De. 6. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Crew members watch as an F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington during a naval exercise with South Korea in the Yellow Sea on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The drills come amid heightened tension in the region after a North Korean artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island last week. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Staff watch radar screens in the Combat Direction Center on the USS George Washington during the military drills off South Korea. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former South Korean special agents whose mission was to infiltrate North Korea, sing a military song during a rally on the Yeonpyeong island, South Korea. About 85 former agents, who criticized the North's attack and urged the South Korean government to punish Pyongyang, landed the island Nov. 30 and said they would stay for a week to help with reconstruction. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. South Korean marines await navy ships carrying military equipment on Yeonpyeong island on Tuesday, Nov. 30. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. North Korean defectors and anti-North Korea activists release balloons for North Korea containing $1,000 in $1 notes and anti-North Korean leaflets in Paju, north of Seoul. (Jo Yong-hak / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. South Korean middle school students learn how to use a gas mask in a mock chemical attack in Seoul. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. During a rally denouncing last week's bombardment, Korea Freedom Federation members shout outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Nov. 29. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. South Korean marines watch President Lee Myung-Bak's news conference on a television minitor on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 29. Lee condemned North Korea's recent shelling of the South Korean border island, calling an attack against civilians an "inhumane" crime. (Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. South Korean ships stage off the coast of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 28 as war drills by the United States and South Korea began. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. South Korean protesters hold candles during a rally in Seoul opposing the military exercise between South Korea and the United States. (Park Ji-hwan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. South Korean women take cover inside a bomb shelter on Yeonpyeong Island after authorities sounded the alarm over a possible North Korean rocket attack on Nov. 28. It proved to be a false alarm. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A North Korean soldier, right, looks back as she and another soldier patrol on a pathway along the bank of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, North Korea, Nov. 28. (Andy Wong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A South Korean police car is reflected in the shattered glass of a restaurant window along a seaside road on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 27. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Former South Korean marines burn images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, right, and his son Kim Jong Un, during a rally Nov. 27 in Seoul. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Kim Oh-bock, mother of Seo Jung-woo, a South Korean marine killed in the Nov. 23 North Korean bombardment, cries as she holds his casket during a funeral service Nov. 27 at a military hospital in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. South Korean marines carry flag-draped caskets of two comrades during a funeral service Nov. 27 in Seongnam. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The mother of South Korean marine Moon Kwang-wook, another marine killed by North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong Island, cries Nov. 27 at her son's funeral. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. South Korean protesters denouncing North Korean attack on an island close to the border between the two nations burn a North Korean flag in Seoul on Nov. 24. After North Korea's strike, South Korea and the United States said they would launch four-day naval exercises in the Yellow Sea involving an American aircraft carrier. (Jung Yeon-Je / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. South Korean protesters trample on a picture of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Buddhist monk shouts slogans with protesters at a rally denouncing North Korea in Seoul on Nov. 24. (Truth Leem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A man walks past a house wrecked by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong island, Nov. 24. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Destroyed houses are seen on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 24. (Dong-A Ilbo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. South Korean survivors react upon their arrival at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea on Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A destroyed house is seen on Nov. 24 after it was hit by artillery shells fired by North Korea on Yeonpyeong Island. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. South Korean marines, who were injured when North Korean artillery shelled Yeonpyeong island, sit on beds at a military hospital in Seongnam on Nov. 24. (Yonhap / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. People stand near destroyed houses on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Nov. 24. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. South Korean police officers load relief supplies for villagers of Yeonpyeong Island, at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 24. (Lee Jin-man / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. South Korean residents take shelter from North Korea's attack on Yeonpyeong island on Nov. 23. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. South Korean Red Cross workers load relief supplies bound for Yeonpyeong Island at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, Nov. 24. (Yonhap / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A resident of the Yeonpyeong Island arrives at Incheon port, South Korea, on Nov. 23. (Kim Chul-soo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A picture taken off television shows the moment of impact of one of the artillery shells fired by North Korea onto the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. This picture taken by a South Korean tourist shows huge plumes of smoke rising from Yeonpyeong Island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23. North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto the South Korean island, killing two people, setting homes ablaze and triggering retaliatory fire by the South. It was one of the most serious clashes between the two sides in decades. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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