Seoul: South Korea`s new defence minister took office on Saturday and vowed a strong military response that would force rival North Korea to surrender if the communist nation attacks the South again.
Kim Kwan-jin`s predecessor resigned amid criticism that the government responded weakly to a North Korean artillery barrage November 23 on a South Korean island near their disputed western sea border that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.
During a confirmation hearing on Friday, Kim warned South Korea would launch air strikes on the North if it stages another attack.
"If North Korea carries out a military provocation on our territory and people again, we must retaliate immediately and strongly until they completely surrender," Kim Kwan-jin said in his maiden speech on Saturday, made to senior military officials.
Kim also called for military readiness, saying North Korea would plot new provocations.
Skirmishes occur periodically along the two Koreas` disputed maritime border, but the latest assault was the first since the 1950-53 Korean War to target a civilian area.
The November 23 attack came eight months after a North Korean torpedo strike on a South Korean warship killed 46 sailors — the worst attack on South Korea`s military since the war.
The attacks have called into question President Lee Myung-bak`s willingness to stand up to the North, despite his tough stance of refusing to coddle the reclusive regime since taking office nearly three years ago.
Lee must balance calls for a harsh response with the knowledge that Seoul — a city of more than 10 million people — is only 30 miles (50 kilometres) from the heavily militarised border and within easy range of North Korean artillery.
On Friday, the US Senate approved a resolution condemning North Korea`s attack and urging North Korea to halt all nuclear activities and refrain from any further actions that may destabilise the Korean peninsula.
"This brazen attack is one in a series of actions by the Government of North Korea that undermine regional peace and security, especially on the Korean peninsula," the resolution stated.
Also on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that she will meet with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts on Monday in Washington "to review the approach we should be taking" over North Korea.
"What we object to is a pursuit of nuclear weapons that can be used to threaten and intimidate their neighbours and beyond," Hillary said in Bahrain. "That is unacceptable, and it is destabilising."
Hillary will hold a separate bilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers on Monday before the three meet together on later that day, according to State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.
After quitting the six-nation talks in April 2009, North Korea has shown it is eager to restart them to gain much-needed fuel oil and aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament. However, the recent revelation that the North has developed a large uranium enrichment facility, giving it a new method for making material for bombs, has further called into question its intent to disarm.