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South Korea downplays North's threat

THE vow by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to abandon all peace agreements with Seoul drew a mild response from Republic of Korea's president, who continued to express optimism that the rivals could hold negotiations soon.

President Lee Myung-bak dismissed North Korea's claim that his government's tougher policies were pushing the divided peninsula toward armed conflict.

"I hope North Korea understands that (South Korea) has affection toward the North, and I think that the two Koreas can hold negotiations before long," Lee said on Friday.

Lee's comments came hours after the North vowed to abandon a nonaggression pact and all other peace agreements with South Korea. The North also said it would not respect a disputed sea border with the South.

The South's prime minister said the moves could have been timed to coincide with Barack Obama taking over as the US president.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said he hoped the North would embrace dialogue.

"We hope that instead of threats of this kind, North Korea would come out to talk to us on matters of mutual concern and interest," he said.

Korea University professor Yoo Ho-yeol said the latest challenge had three aims: to put pressure on the South's President Lee to soften his policy, scare the United States and drum up political support at home.

"The North probably believes that this type of thing is the most effective way of getting the upper hand with the United States ahead of negotiations by raising tension," Yoo said.

The North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper yesterday repeated accusations that the South is preparing for war and warned it will pay a price for aggravating inter-Korean ties.


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