South Korean president names new defense minister amid turmoil

By Kim Miyoung
Friday, November 26, 2010

SEOUL - South Korean President Lee Myung-bak appointed his security adviser as new defense minister Friday, Korean media reported, as tensions rise after a deadly artillery attack by North Korea this week.

Lee Hee-won, the new minister, is a career military man who advocates a "smart" military able to anticipate and react quickly to North Korea's unpredictable moves.

He replaces Kim Tae-young, who quit Thursday after criticism about the pace of South Korea's response to North Korea's shelling Tuesday of an island near their disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea. Four South Koreans were killed and 20 were wounded.

The president accepted Kim's resignation "to improve the atmosphere in the military and to handle the series of incidents," a presidential official said.

Media have described the new minister as experienced in military operations and well versed in cooperating with the armed forces of the United States, South Korea's biggest ally.

The U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the nuclear-powered USS George Washington was on its way to participate in Yellow Sea exercises with the South Korean navy starting Sunday.

Although planned before this week's attack, the four-day maneuvers are a show of strength that could enrage North Korea and has already unsettled its major ally and neighbor, China.

Washington is putting pressure on China to rein in North Korea and ease the tension in the world's fastest-growing region.

President Obama is likely to speak with Chinese President Hu Jintao within days about the Korean situation, a White House official said, though no date had been set for the call.

But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the focus should be placed on a revival of the stalled six-party denuclearization talks grouping the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States. North Korea has defied international efforts to halt its nuclear weapons program..

The Chinese spokesman, Hong Lei, also expressed concern about the U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

"We have noted the relevant reports and express our concern about this," he said.

Pyongyang has not commented on the exercises but said in typically aggressive language Thursday that it would "wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again."

- Reuters

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