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(News Focus) N. Korea top challenge for chemistry of Park, Obama
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- The election of the ruling party's Park Geun-hye as South Korea's president eases some uncertainties over the future of the alliance with the United States, pundits here said Wednesday.

   But Park and President Barack Obama are confronted with the all-important and probably difficult task of charting a joint approach toward North Korea, they added.

   "I think this is a very positive development for U.S.-ROK (South Korea) relations, particularly because the two sides are now likely to remain on the same page across a wide range of issues," said Evans Revere, formerly a senior State Department official handling East Asian and Pacific affairs.

   He served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul from 2000 to 2003.

   "Once Madame Park is inaugurated, the top challenge for her and President Obama will almost certainly be dealing with North Korea," Revere said.

   Park of the conservative Saenuri Party beat her liberal rival, Moon Jae-in, to become the first female president of the traditionally male-dominated nation.

   She is expected to inherit a robust Seoul-Washington alliance from the outgoing Lee Myung-bak administration.

   Park, daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, however, signaled a departure from Lee's hard-line policy on North Korea. She has openly said he would seek an opportunity to resume dialogue with and humanitarian aid to the communist neighbor, although that would largely depend on Pyongyang's attitude.

   Park had a rare experience for a top South Korean politician, visiting Pyongyang in 2002 and meeting then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   "Foremost on the security agenda is how to fashion a successful strategy of engagement, deterrence and readiness for managing North Korea," said Patrick M. Cronin, a senior researcher at the Center for the New American Security.

   Other experts agreed that North Korea may cause a diplomatic rift between the allies.

   "The North Korea question will no doubt continue to vex both Seoul and Washington," said Nicholas Eberstadt, a top political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

   Many Korea watchers here still remember conflicts between George W. Bush and his liberal South Korean counterparts on ways to handle Pyongyang.

   Larry Niksch, a long-time Korea expert now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called for an overhaul of the allies' strategy on North Korea, a nation armed with nuclear weapons and long-range rockets.

   "Denuclearization as a policy is a policy corpse," he said. "A new strategy is needed to replace it. Otherwise, Seoul and Washington will only 'spin their wheels' and go nowhere."

   The first summit talks between Park and Obama, expected to be held shortly after her inauguration in late February, could set the tone for the alliance over the next five years.

   The pundits emphasized the importance of early consultations between Obama's advisers and "trusted aides" to Park.