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S. Korean Military Ready for 'Worst Case Scenario' - 2003-01-16

South Korea's defense minister says the country's army is prepared for anything in the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program. Speaking before the parliamentary defense committee, Lee Jun says war could break out. Defense Minister Lee Jun says the South Korean army is prepared for what he describes as the "worst case scenario" of a full-scale war on the Korea Peninsula.

Mr. Lee says war might be unavoidable if the problem of North Korea's nuclear development is not solved peacefully and the United States attacks the communist state. South Korea's Yonhap news agency monitored his comments.

He was responding to reports that some young South Koreans believe Pyongyang would not attack the South, even if the North goes to war with the United States. That view is not shared by all South Koreans.

Kim Tae-woo, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, says many conservatives in the county are wary an attack from the North.

"We South Koreans are actually worried about that possibility," he said. " If there is any military strike on the part of the U.S. against North Korea, well, many South Koreans worry that North Korea can do something against South Korea or against Japan."

In the last few months, tensions on the peninsula have steadily escalated over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program. Last October, a top U.S. diplomat reported that North Korea admitted having an illegal weapons effort. Pyongyang has since denied making that admission.

Thursday, Defense Minister Lee said it is difficult to say for sure if North Korea would target the South with nuclear weapons, but it could not be ruled out and the likelihood was high.

The crisis over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons programs has worsened in the past few weeks after Pyongyang withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and threatened to resume missile tests.

North Korea has dismissed a United States' offer of talks.

South Korea's defense minister says the United States is unlikely to meet the North's demands for a non-aggression pact. He says that is because doing so would involve discussions about the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

This week, the United Nations Command, which oversees the border separating the two Koreas, reports increased North Korea troop patrols in recent week. But a UNC spokeswoman says the developments are not a cause for concern and could be part of winter training.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says it will use next week's inter-Korean ministerial meeting to raise concerns over the North's nuclear programs. Seoul will call on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and begin talks with the United States.