Sunday, February 25, 2018

North Korea chooses reformer as new premier

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's parliament approved the appointment of a new premier seen by outside experts as an economic reformer one day after top party officials adopted a declaration making nuclear arms and a stronger economy the nation's top priorities.

The United States, meanwhile, made its latest conspicuous display of firepower, announcing it had sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to participate in annual U.S.-South Korean war games that Pyongyang calls preparation for an invasion. The new South Korean president, who has a policy meant to re-engage Pyongyang with talks and aid, told her top military leaders Monday to set aside politics and respond strongly should North Korea attack.

The re-emergence of Pak Pong Ju as premier at an annual spring parliamentary session is seen by analysts as a clear signal that leader Kim Jong Un is moving to back up recent vows to focus on strengthened economic development. The United Nations says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face food shortages.

Pyongyang has reacted with anger to the U.S.-South Korean military drills and to new U.N. and U.S. sanctions that followed its Feb. 12 underground nuclear test, the country's third. Analysts see a full-scale North Korean attack as unlikely and say the threats are more likely efforts to provoke softer policies toward Pyongyang from a new government in Seoul, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the young North Korean leader's military credentials at home.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the United States has not detected any military mobilization or repositioning of forces from Pyongyang to back up the threats.

While analysts call North Korea's threats largely brinkmanship, there is some fear that a localized skirmish might escalate. Seoul has vowed to respond harshly should North Korea provoke its military. Naval skirmishes in disputed Yellow Sea waters off the Korean coast have led to bloody battles several times over the years. Attacks blamed on Pyongyang in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans.

Under late leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea typically held a parliamentary meeting once a year. But Kim Jong Un held an unusual second session last September in a sign that he is trying to run the country differently from his father, who died in late 2011.

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