SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye has signalled a tough new approach to derailing North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, promising a more assertive response to Pyongyang's provocations.
In a strongly-worded televised speech to the National Assembly yesterday, Ms Park warned that South Koreans had over the years become "numb" to the threat from their northern neighbour, and said it was time to take a more courageous stand.
North Korea carried out its fourth nuclear test last month and followed that up on Feb 7 with a long-range rocket launch that was widely condemned as a ballistic missile test banned under United Nations resolutions.
Ms Park argued that past efforts at engagement had not worked.
"It has become clear that we cannot break North Korea's will to develop nuclear weapons through existing means and goodwill," she said. "It's time to find a fundamental solution for bringing practical change in North Korea and to show courage in putting that into action."
Her comments are likely to trigger an angry response from the North, which is already smarting from the President's unprecedented decision last week to shut down the operations of South Korean companies at the jointly-run Kaesong industrial estate in North Korea.
Kaesong was a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
Defending the closure, Ms Park said it was "just the beginning" and signalled further steps to derail the North's nuclear programme.
"The government will take stronger and more effective measures to make North Korea bitterly realise that it cannot survive with nuclear development and that it will only speed up regime collapse," she said, without specifying what the measures would involve.
South Korea, along with the United States and Japan, has been pushing for a strong UN Security Council resolution that will include harsh new sanctions on North Korea.
Dr Choi Kang, vice-president of the Asan Institute think-tank in Seoul, said Ms Park's speech flagged a clear and significant policy change.
"It is a shift from an ideal North Korea policy to a realistic North Korea policy," he said.
"In the past, incentive was stressed as the most important means for denuclearising North Korea. Now, by making North Korea pay a practical price, it has shifted to changing North Korea's strategic calculation and inducing it to make a decision," he added.
South Korea is due to begin talks with the US this week on the possible deployment of an advanced US missile defence system which China and Russia have warned could undermine stability in East Asia.
After Ms Park's speech, the Yonhap news agency cited defence officials in Seoul as saying that four US F-22 stealth fighter jets would fly a mission over South Korea tomorrow in a show of force.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS