Lee Recalls Getting Tough with N.Korea

President Lee Myung-bak on Monday recalled that he warned North Korea via China following the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November of 2010 that Seoul will not tolerate any further provocations.

"I conveyed my decision to China after North Korea's provocation against Yeonpyeong Island that Seoul will retaliate not just targeting the source of the attack but supporting bases behind too, by mobilizing the Army, Navy and Air Force," Lee told the Chosun Ilbo.

"I told China to convey this message to North Korea, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo went to Pyongyang to tell the North and informed me personally that the message had been conveyed."

Lee said he took those steps because North Korea's provocations are based on the regime's belief that South Korea and the U.S. will never retaliate.

Lee Myung-bak Lee Myung-bak

The outgoing president said he also urged the Air Force to strike the North after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, but a high-ranking military officer stopped him by saying such a move must be discussed with the U.S. and that an aerial attack had to be avoided according to the rules of engagement.

"After that, I revised the rules of engagement so that frontline commanders can first take aggressive action in response and then report it up the chain of command," Lee said.

The U.S. was initially opposed to changing the rules of engagement, Lee said, but he was able to convince Washington.

He said the saddest part of his five-year term in office was the loss of 46 sailors aboard the Navy corvette Cheonan, which was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. "I was upset by the loss of young soldiers, and saddened again when people said the attack had been fabricated," Lee said.

The proudest moment of his presidency, by contrast, was when South Korea became the only country in the world whose economy grew when all other countries' were shrinking amid the global financial crisis. "The world recognized us through that achievement and that enabled us to become the chair country of the G20," he claimed.

Lee, whose term ends on Feb. 24, said he wants to play a quiet role helping the country after he leaves office.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 05, 2013 11:42 KST