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U.S. Sees No N. Korea Military Movement as Kim Names Premier

North Korean Premier Pak Pong Ju
North Korean Premier Pak Pong Ju is seen in this March 24, 2005 photo. Pak, the new North Korean premier, was demoted from the post in 2007 after running into opposition for his efforts to push market-oriented reforms, Yonhap News said at the time. Source: China Photos/Getty Images

The Obama administration said it has detected no unusual troop movements from North Korea in support of its threats to attack South Korea, American bases in the Asia-Pacific or the continental U.S.

“Despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters yesterday in Washington. “We take it very seriously. But it is consistent with past behavior.”

Carney said recent U.S. military moves, which include deploying bombers and F-22 stealth fighters to South Korea as well as a shift in its missile defense system, are “prudent” given the situation. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against South Korea and the U.S., and last week declared a “state of war.”

The Navy dispatched the USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, to operate off the southwest coast of the Korean peninsula, according to a U.S. defense official yesterday who spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing the move.

North Korea’s parliament yesterday named economic reformist Pak Pong Ju premier, returning him to a post he held from 2003 to 2007 before he was demoted. The rubber stamp assembly met a day after Kim declared nuclear weapons development one of the top priorities for his impoverished country.

Military-First Policy

Since inheriting his position after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, the younger Kim has rebuffed international aid in favor of preserving a military-first policy to secure his legitimacy. His regime detonated a nuclear weapon in February in defiance of tightening United Nations sanctions, and said U.S.-South Korean military drills are a rehearsal for a nuclear attack against North Korea.

Nuclear arms can “never be abandoned” nor “traded with billions of dollars,” Kim said March 31 at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

“North Korea must aggressively develop more powerful and advanced nuclear arms by continuing to make smaller, miniaturized atomic weapons and systems to deliver them,” Kim said, according to a full text of his speech printed in today’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

Gaeseong Complex

While his government has said it may shut the jointly run Gaeseong industrial zone in response to recent flights over the Korean peninsula by U.S. stealth bombers, South Korean workers have continued to cross the border into the area, 150 of them today, the Unification Ministry said.

South Korea President Park Geun Hye today met with national security officials, a day after telling Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin to “respond strongly” to any provocations from the North. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said there are no signs of an impending missile attack, declining to confirm whether any activity has been detected at launch sites.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington today to discuss the North Korean threat. Yun and Kerry will also talk about details for Park’s summit meeting with President Barack Obama in the U.S. next month, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

Pak, the new North Korean premier, was demoted from the post in 2007 after running into opposition for his efforts to push market-oriented reforms, Yonhap News said at the time.

He made a comeback in 2010, returning as a member of the Workers’ Party Central Committee and the politburo. He served on the board for preparing Kim Jong Il’s funeral in 2011.

Pak is known to put importance on improving agriculture and the people’s standards of living, according to Cheong Seong Chang, senior research fellow at state-run Sejong Institute in Seoul. More funds were allocated for agriculture under Pak in comparison to the spending ordered by his successor Kim Yong Il, Cheong said.

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