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(LEAD) N. Korea continues missile development: defense minister nominee

(ATTN: ADDS more comments in last 3 paras; REPLACES photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) — North Korea is continuing to develop its missile capabilities, defense minister nominee Gen. Suh Wook said Wednesday, vowing to sternly respond to any provocations.

Suh made the remark in an opening speech during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly amid speculation that the North could showcase a new strategic weapon at the 75th founding anniversary of its ruling party on Oct. 10.

“North Korea is focusing on preparations for the 75th party founding anniversary event after suspending military action plans against the South in June. But as military activities continue, including missile development, we are closely watching related moves,” Suh said.

In June, Pyongyang drastically heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office building in the North’s border town of Kaesong and threatening to take military actions against the South.

The nominee said the military will sternly respond to any provocation or threat while actively supporting inter-Korean exchanges to back peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.

Suh also vowed to promote the South Korea-U.S. alliance and defense cooperation with other neighboring countries to bring peace in the region.

“Based on the strong South Korea-U.S. alliance, we will actively accelerate the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON),” he said, pledging to strengthen the two countries’ combined defense posture.

The Seoul government seeks to retake the wartime OPCON before the current Moon Jae-in administration’s term ends in May 2022, though the transition is not time-based but conditions-based.

Defense minister nominee Gen. Suh Wook speaks during the National Assembly's confirmation hearing on Sept. 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

During the confirmation hearing, the nominee apologized for allegations that Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s son was given preferential extended leave during his mandatory military service in 2017.

Prosecutors are currently investigating the case based on allegations that the son, surnamed Seo, was exceptionally given an extended 23-day leave, including a 19-day medical leave, thanks to his mother’s influence as the then-chairwoman of the Democratic Party.

“I am sorry for causing concerns to the public with the latest incident,” Suh said. “There were some inadequacies including administrative issues.”

“I will work harder (on issues) including the transfer of wartime operational control and conscripts’ right to medical treatment so that the military will not falter,” the nominee added.

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