South Korea's new unification minister says he hopes to resume humanitarian assistance to North Korea to help ease tensions between the two neighbors.
Hyun In-taek was speaking Thursday at his inauguration ceremony in Seoul. He says he is ready to meet North Korean officials and respond to the humanitarian needs of the impoverished country.
The new South Korean minister, who is considered a hardliner, also reiterated Seoul's demand that North Korea dismantle its atomic weapons program in exchange for aid. North Korea warned Sunday that if Hyun takes office, inter-Korean relations would be pushed to collapse.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stopped government shipments of rice and fertilizer to the North last year after taking office. The move ended his predecessors' policy of sending aid unconditionally.
Local South Korean groups continue to make aid shipments to the North.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Thursday that ties with Pyongyang would suffer if it test-launches a long-range ballistic missile. He said such a move also would threaten stability in northeast Asia and further isolate the North.
South Korean media say North Korea appears to be preparing to test fire a long-range missile capable of reaching the western United States.
In recent weeks, Pyongyang also has scrapped all political and military agreements with South Korea, including a deal over their border in the Yellow Sea.
Some analysts believe the North's statements and actions are aimed at getting the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit East Asia on her first official trip beginning Sunday, with stops in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.