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(News Focus) Speculation abounds over 'mysterious' resignation of top transition team member
By Chang Jae-soon
SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- The abrupt resignation of a top presidential transition team member has left many guessing as to what forced him to leave reportedly "in tears." Some say it could be because of a row over his soft-line approach to North Korea and others say purely private reasons could be behind his departure.

   Transition Committee spokesman Yoon Chang-jung has not given any clear reason why Choi Dae-seok, one of the top three members of the committee's foreign policy and security team, has stepped down, only saying he quit due to an unspecified "personal reason," a cliche commonly used when giving no reason for resignation.

   The spokesman also said President-elect Park Geun-hye accepted the resignation.

   Choi, a U.S.-educated professor on North Korea studies at Seoul's Ewha Womans University, is known as an advocate of reconciliation with North Korea and the architect of Park's campaign pledge to seek what is dubbed the "Korean Peninsula trust process."

   He has offered policy advice to Park for seven to eight years.

   A newspaper report said that Choi had "tears" in his eyes on Friday when a reporter approached him on the street near the transition committee office, saying that he had nothing to say while referring all queries to the spokesman of the transition team.

   "It's not that I did something wrong, and I just decided to take responsibility," Choi was quoted as telling committee members on Friday without elaborating, according to the report. "The reason will be made known gradually."

   His resignation was announced Sunday and his phone has since remained off.

Choi Dae-seok, who resigned as a member of the presidential transition committee, poses for a photo with President-elect Park Geun-hye on Jan. 6, 2013. (Yonhap)

Choi, who had served as a co-leader of the Korea Sharing Movement, a major aid organization to North Korea, has been considered one of the leading candidates for unification minister. He earned his master's from Syracuse University and his doctorate from Claremont Graduate School.

   Some watchers say his call for greater reconciliation with Pyongyang could have run afoul of other conservative members of the foreign policy subcommittee. During a recent seminar, Choi gave a positive assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year message.

   He has also been critical of Seoul's tough sanctions on North Korea, known as the "May 24 measures," which were imposed two months after the communist nation attacked and sank a South Korean warship in waters near the tense Yellow Sea border in March 2010.

   The sanctions cut off nearly all economic cooperation and ties between South and North Korea, except a joint industrial park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

   In an academic paper early last year, Choi denounced the sanctions, saying that the government took the punitive steps without considering the damage and anxiety they cause to the South Korean people. He claimed that the measures should be lifted in phases.

   Some watchers say that Choi could have quit to take responsibility after the team's plan to reorganize the presidential office, including the creation of the so-called "office of national security," was leaked to the press.

   The committee has kept a tight lid on information, banning committee members from talking to reporters about details of their work, over concern that disclosure of half-baked policies could confuse the public.

   Choi is a son of a late ruling party lawmaker in the 1970s when Park's father, former President Park Chung-hee, was in power. After his appointment to the transition team, the media said the two families are working together for a second generation.

   He is married to a member of the family owning the local conglomerate GS Group.

   This has given rise to speculation that his resignation could be related to possible problems with the wealth accumulation of his family or it could be because his children have dual citizenship, a long-denounced practice often involving rich families.

   These issues could have arisen in the course of vetting him for unification minister.