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(Yonhap Interview) Regional powers must keep pressure on N.K. to denuclearize: British envoy
By Kim Deok-hyun and Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- The British ambassador to South Korea said Thursday that regional powers should not ease pressure on the new North Korean leadership to abandon its nuclear ambitions, despite concerns over stability in the North sparked by the death of Kim Jong-il.

   The death of Kim also provides a prospect for the North's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, to improve the livelihoods of North Koreans by engaging with the international community, British Ambassador Scott Wightman said, while conceding it is unclear whether Kim has any interest in seizing that chance.

   "I think it's important that we all maintain pressure on the North Korean authorities to open up and certainly maintain pressure both on them and on those who have influence over the authorities in North Korea to lead to the restarting of the six-party talks process," Wightman said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

   "That's the way in which denuclearization will happen, that's the way in which the DPRK's relationship with the outside world can really change for the better," he said, referring to North Korea by an acronym of its official name.

British Ambassador Scott Wightman (Yonhap file photo)

The six-party talks have been on hold since April 2009, when North Korea stormed out of the process after a new round of U.N. sanctions, then conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

   The North's longtime leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have died of a heart attack on Dec. 17. Since then, his youngest son and designated successor, Kim Jong-un, has taken the helm of Pyongyang by rapidly taking up key posts in both the military and the Workers' Party. Many analysts have questioned whether the inexperienced and young leader, believed to be in his late 20s, can consolidate his grip on power and continue the one-man dictatorship.

   Some have suggested the North's new leader might launch another provocation against South Korea this year to resolve internal conflicts and demonstrate his grip on power.

   This week, South Korea's defense ministry said it will focus this year on beefing up its defense against possible North Korean attacks, saying, "The possibility of a North Korean provocation still remains as Kim Jong-un is in the process of building his regime."

   Asked about the possibility of a North Korean provocation, Wightman said: "I think it's an open question whether they would want to pursue any provocation before the events in April, the hundredth anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth." The birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the North's founder and grandfather of Kim Jong-un, falls on April 15.

   "What's important for all of us, I think, is that we should be carefully prepared to deal with any particular developments and we can make our best guess about what's most likely to happen," Wightman said.

   Britain is one of few Western nations that have established diplomatic ties with North Korea.

   Citing information from its embassy in Pyongyang, Wightman said the atmosphere in the capital city was calm and life was beginning to return to normal.

   "Shops have reopened, restaurants have reopened and things are broadly continuing as before," the ambassador said.

   "For the first couple of days there were visible signs of people paying their respects at different monuments," he said. "But I think much of that has now passed and most people are trying to get on with their daily lives."

  The British embassy is offering English-language courses for about 50 North Korean defectors and arranged three-month internships for 10 of them to help them better adapt to South Korean society.

  Last year, a North Korean defector received the British government's Chevening Scholarship for the first time.

  Wightman hopes that more North Korean defectors who settled in South Korea apply for the scholarship program this year. The embassy is accepting application for the 2012/13 Chevening scholarship program by Jan. 17. All applications must be submitted on-line through its Web site (