SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea's parliament approved the appointment of a new premier seen by outside experts as an economic reformer one day after top party officials adopted a declaration making nuclear arms and a stronger economy the nation's top priorities.
The U.S., meanwhile, made its latest conspicuous display of firepower, announcing it had sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to participate in annual U.S.-South Korean war games that Pyongyang calls preparation for an invasion. The new South Korean president, who has a policy meant to re-engage Pyongyang with talks and aid, told her top military leaders Monday to set aside political considerations and respond strongly should North Korea attack.
The re-emergence of Pak Pong Ju as premier at an annual spring parliamentary session is seen by analysts as a clear signal that leader Kim Jong Un is moving to back up recent vows to focus on strengthened economic development. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages.
Pak was the North's premier in 2003-07, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. He was sacked initially because of a proposal for an incentive-based hourly, rather than monthly, wage system deemed too similar to U.S.-style capitalism, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported in 2007. Pak replaces Choe Yong Rim, who is 82.
Any economic changes won't be radical, said John Delury, a professor and North Korea analyst at Seoul's Yonsei University. One possible change could entail a shift of part of the country's massive military spending into the economy as a whole, he said.
Analysts see a full-scale North Korean attack as unlikely and say the threats are more likely efforts to provoke softer policies toward Pyongyang from a new government in Seoul, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the young North Korean leader's military credentials at home. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the U.S. has not detected any military mobilization or repositioning of forces from Pyongyang to back up the threats.
Despite the rising hostility, recent rhetoric has focused on efforts to turn around a moribund economy and nuclear development.