By Yoon Won-sup
President-elect Lee Myung-bak pledged to enhance the nation's military strength against North Korea even though he will continue the peace and reconciliation policy toward the country.
``Reinforcing defense and strengthening security do not mean ignoring inter-Korean reconciliation,'' Lee said during a meeting with Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo and other military leaders at the Defense Ministry in Seoul Friday.
Lee stressed that a strong defense and tight security are the basis of the nation as they deter war and keep the peace despite the various measures for ultimate unification on the Korean Peninsula.
``Korea is the only divided nation on the earth. We must take defense and security seriously,'' Lee added.
He also met Kim Kwan-jin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Lee's visit was his first to a government office since he won the presidential election last month. He became the first President-elect to visit the ministry before taking office.
Asked why he visited the ministry, Lee said, ``Originally, I planned to visit the ministry after the inauguration. But I concluded I had to visit before visiting the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) on Jan. 15.''
Lee will meet U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. B. B. Bell, who also serves as chief of the CFC, to discuss ways of enhancing combined defense readiness at the CFC headquarters Tuesday.
Lee notified President Roh Moo-hyun of his visit to the ministry in advance because his visit as President-elect might displease Roh.
The military officials welcomed Lee's visit as well as his emphasis on defense and security. They also shared the same view that increased combat readiness and inter-Korean rapprochement can be compatible.
``Real peace can exist when the military is strong,'' a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. ``We are happy to see President-elect Lee share this view.''
An official of the state-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) expressed the hope that Lee will likely help earmark enough money for the defense budget at the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, though Lee said he will likely seek a reconciliation policy with North Korea, he has been signaling a departure from the so-called ``sunshine'' policy.
Rep. Park Jin, chief of Lee's transition team's committee on foreign affairs, said the new government will drop the sunshine policy and seek reciprocity-based relations with North Korea.