SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea today welcomed the new year with a push for better ties with rival South Korea, warning that war "will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust."
Despite calls in its annual New Year's message for a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, the North, which has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, also said its military was ready for "prompt, merciless and annihilatory action" against its enemies.
The North's holiday message — scrutinized by officials and analysts in neighboring countries for policy clues — comes in the wake of its Nov. 23 artillery attack that killed four people on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island near the countries' disputed western sea border. That barrage, which followed an alleged North Korean torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March, sent tensions between the Koreas soaring and fueled fears of war during the last weeks of 2010.
The North's message, carried in the official state media, said confrontation between the two Koreas should be quickly defused and called for a push to improve relations.
But the message also indicated that the North's military would continue to prepare itself for fighting.
The military "will not in the least pardon those who impair our absolute dignity and socialist system even a bit, and violate our airspace, territory and waters even an inch," the statement said.
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, dressed in traditional Korean clothes, told his people he was full of hope for 2011.
"I am confident that we will be able to establish peace on the Korean peninsula and continue sustained economic growth," he said in a videotaped message.