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February 20, 2013

South Korea Brushes Off North's 'Final Destruction' Threat

by Steve Herman

South Korea's top national security official, in an exclusive VOA interview, says there is no cause for alarm amid a fresh North Korean threat to destroy the South.

National Security Adviser, Chun Yung-woo, says he is disappointed but not alarmed by a North Korean diplomat's bombastic threat.

Chun told VOA's Korean Service Wednesday that Pyongyang routinely resorts to “violent vocabulary and expressions” to issue threats of war and retaliation. So such rhetoric unleashed at an international conference is not surprising.

At a United Nations disarmament conference Tuesday in Geneva, North Korean diplomat Jon Yong Ryong predicted “South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction.”

Jon also said Pyongyang will take further steps in wake of its February 12 nuclear bomb test, but he did not elaborate.

​​North Korea has regularly vilified South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as “rat-like” and the leader of a “gang of traitors.”

Lee, limited to a single five-year term, leaves office Monday when President-elect Park Geun-hye is to be inaugurated.

In a farewell speech Tuesday, Lee surprised many by contending that people in North Korea, an isolated and highly repressive country, are changing.

Chun says Seoul cannot reveal specific evidence but that, indeed, an “important wind of change is blowing” in the North.

Chun, the presidential chief secretary for foreign affairs and security, says this is a result of various tools South Korea has at its disposal. He also says the Voice of America should get some of the credit for the change. And, Chun predicts VOA, because of its nightly broadcasts into North Korea, will play a key role in shaping the reclusive and impoverished country's destiny.

​​After North Korea's recent space launch and nuclear test, Chun says stronger sanctions to be imposed by the U.N. Security Council are key to restraining Pyongyang from further provocation.

“China's stance will be the most important factor that North Korea will base its decisions on whether to conduct further nuclear tests and missile launches,” the security adviser says.

Some analysts predict North Korean officials will wait until they see the severity of the new sanctions before giving the go-ahead for a fourth nuclear test.

But Li Hong, a well-known advocate for arms control and nuclear disarmament in China, cautions that the North Korean nuclear program is a long-standing and complicated matter and the rest of the world should not insist Beijing resolve it.

“No country, not only China, even the number one -- the United States -- can't have a solution to the issue," Li said. "How can you expect China to solve this issue?”

Li, the secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, made the remark in Seoul, Wednesday, at the Asan Nuclear Forum.

China is North Korea's neighbor and sole remaining significant ally. It is also a critical source of hundreds of millions of dollars annually of food supplies and badly needed aid.