South Korea calm on North's threat to suspend dialogue

South Korea on Sunday reacted calmly to North Korea's threat to suspend all inter-Korean dialogue in protest over remarks by Seoul's top general.


In a first official reaction, the South's defence ministry said it had no plans to respond immediately to the North's message.


"The ministry will decide - within two or three days - on whether it should send a reply or not after scrutinising North Koreans' real intentions through consultations with the unification ministry and other agencies," it said in a press statement.


The North on Saturday called on South Korean new Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) head Kim Tae-Young to apologise for his remarks that Seoul would strike North Korean nuclear sites should Pyongyang attack it with atomic weapons.


The North's Korean People's Army (KPA) also warned of a further slide in ties.


"If the South side does not retract the outbursts calling for 'pre-emptive attack' nor clarify its stand to apologise for them, the KPA will interpret this as the stand of the South side authorities to suspend all inter-Korean dialogues and contacts," it said.


Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been rising recently.


The North on Thursday expelled Seoul officials from a jointly-run plant in Keasong, the most important inter-Korean project and the most visible symbol of reconciliation, just north of the Korean border.


The North also test-launched short-range missiles off its west coast on Friday.


The test-firing coincided with Pyongyang’s warning that it could slow down work to disable its atomic plants and the North Korean navy warning against South Korean warships intruding into its "territorial waters" in the Yellow Sea, which are claimed by both Koreas.


Bloody clashes involving warships of the two rivals in 1999 and 2002 left dozens of casualties on both sides.


At a parliament hearing on Wednesday, JCS chairman Kim, answering a hypothetical question of how to react if the North developed small nuclear weapons and attacked the South with them, said the South should find the North's nuclear sites and strike them with precision weapons.


The North's military on Saturday denounced Kim's remarks as "the gravest challenge ever" to inter-Korean ties and "a reckless provocation little short of a war declaration" against Pyongyang.


General Kim's office on Thursday issued a statement, saying his remarks contained no reference to "pre-emptive" strikes. (AFP)