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Korean Peninsula Engages in War of Words Over Military Action Threats

April 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye issued a strong warning to North Korea in the wake of threats of military action made by leader Kim Jong-un. Judy Woodruff reports on the tensions between North and South Korea and the United States.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. officials said today that a Navy guided-missile destroyer capable of shooting down ballistic missiles has been positioned slightly closer to the Korean Peninsula. This comes in the wake of an escalating verbal exchange between North and South Korea, and a day after top North Korean officials said that building nuclear capabilities was one of its top priorities.

In Seoul today, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye issued a stern warning during a meeting with the country’s defense officials.

PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE, South Korea: If there’s any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be strong response in initial combat without any political considerations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Over the weekend, North Korea said it had entered a state of war with South Korea — the latest threat from Pyongyang since the United Nations slapped sanctions on the country’s nuclear program last month.

North Korea said the most recent move is in response to ongoing joint military exercises between the South and the United States. The U.S. announced it has sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to the region as part of the annual war games.

Today, North Korean state television also released new video of military training exercises. It showed soldiers at a firing range shooting at targets with the letters “USA” on them.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney downplayed the statements by the North.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: Despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces.

Now, we take this seriously. I have said that in the past. And we are vigilant and we are monitoring the Korean situation very diligently.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with members of the country’s Labor Party and said building nuclear capabilities and the economy were top priorities.

Today, during a parliamentary session, Pak Pong Ju was appointed the country’s new premier, a position he held previously from 2003 to 2007. The move is seen as one that may be tied to Kim’s call for economic improvements. The United Nations says two-thirds of North Koreans suffer from inadequate food.