ROK to speak on security as tensions start to ease

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Republic of Korea (ROK) President Lee Myung-bak is expected to deliver an address to the nation regarding national security on Monday, amid moves to further ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In his 20-minute address scheduled for 10 am, Lee is expected to elaborate on his administration's efforts to step up national defense in response to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November and the alleged torpedoing of the warship Cheonan in March, Lee's office said on Sunday.

The address will be among the latest moves by both the ROK and the DPRK to put relations back on track, said Zhang Liangui, an expert on Korean affairs at the Central Party School.

On New Year's Day, Pyongyang sent a positive signal with a call for defusing tension with Seoul, emphasizing its will to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in an editorial carried in DPRK newspapers.

It said that confrontation between the Koreas should be quickly defused.

"The danger of war should be removed and peace safeguarded in the Korean Peninsula," it said.

"The DPRK is consistent in its stand and will achieve peace in Northeast Asia and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," said the editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The editorial also warned that war "will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust".

As the annual holiday message is scrutinized by officials and analysts in neighboring countries for policy clues, the ROK's Ministry of Unification, which handles relations with the DPRK, said the stance carried in the editorial, even with its tough wording, showed Pyongyang's interest in detente and resuming talks.

In the ROK, Lee vowed to work toward peace in his national New Year's address on the same day.

"I am confident that we will be able to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and continue sustained economic growth," Lee, dressed in traditional Korean clothes, said in a televised speech on Saturday.

Pyongyang and Seoul have been cooling their rhetoric in recent weeks given Pyongyang's restraint in the face of military drills from Seoul and Lee's overt backing for a return to the negotiating table.

But Zhang said it was still premature to be too optimistic for prospects on the peninsula, as the message from the DPRK had not ruled out war.

The ROK's ministries of unification and national defense have been cautious toward Pyongyang's statements, Zhang noted.

"Pyongyang still holds the right to take 'a prompt, merciless and annihilatory action' against Seoul, as it has said, and Seoul does not conceal its distrust of Pyongyang," Zhang said.

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