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S. Korea to delink humanitarian aid from N. Korea's denuclearization actions
SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will delink humanitarian assistance to North Korea from overall diplomatic developments with Pyongyang and its denuclearization actions, in the early stages of a "trust-building" process with the North, ministry officials said Wednesday.

   Unveiling detailed diplomatic goals for the new engagement policy with North Korea proposed by President Park Geun-hye, a high-ranking ministry official also brushed aside concerns about to what extent the U.S. will support the initiative by Park to expand inter-Korean relations, saying Washington "fully understands" the new approach by Seoul.

   Park has pledged to pursue the "trust-building" policy with North Korea that calls for more engagement with the North, while, at the same time, not tolerating Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

   In an annual policy briefing to Park on Wednesday, the foreign ministry summarized Park's initiative as a three-step approach in which South Korea will first provide humanitarian aid to North Korea while calling for the North to keep the agreements made with the South.

   If the first-stage measure is successful in building confidence between the two Koreas, South Korea will expand inter-Korean economic cooperation without linking it to the North's nuclearization actions, the high-ranking ministry official said.

   The third-stage step is for large-scale government assistance, but it will be possible only if North Korea demonstrates its sincerity for denuclearization through actions, the official said.

   "From the start, the Korean Peninsula trust-building process does not link to North Korea's denuclearization," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   "If confidence is built throughout the first two stages, the third stage of large-scale assistance will be linked to progress in the North's denuclearization," the official said.

   So far, the U.S. has maintained its stance that it won't return to nuclear talks with North Korea unless the North takes "irreversible steps" to denuclearize.

   However, numerous analysts have raised doubts over Washington's so-called "strategic patience" approach toward North Korea, a policy of shunning direct talks with the North until it agrees to abide by past nuclear commitments.

   Despite diplomatic efforts and international sanctions, North Korea has continued to develop its missile and nuclear programs.

   The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since April 2009, when the North left the negotiating table and conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

   Tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's third nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. to impose new sanctions against the totalitarian regime.

   Asked about a possible contradiction with Washington's "strategic patience" policy, the official replied, "Washington welcomes the process of making a change on the Korean Peninsula."

   "And the trust-building process also contains the issue of denuclearization, the U.S. fully understands the formula," the official said.

   Still, the North's threats against South Korea and the U.S., in response to the latest U.N. sanctions, make it difficult for Park to pursue the "trust-building" policy.

   Last week, South Korea approved the first shipment of humanitarian aid to North Korea since Park was inaugurated, allowing the local charity group Eugene Bell to send tuberculosis medicine to the North.

   The official described the approval as a "meaningful step" to proceed with the new engagement policy with North Korea, although it is still early to judge how the North will respond to the South's conciliatory steps.

   On Tuesday, North Korea put its artillery forces on their highest combat alert and repeated threats of attacks against South Korea and the U.S.

   "From this moment, the Supreme Command puts all of its field artillery, including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units, into the No. 1 combat ready posture," it said in a statement carried by the North's official news agency, the KCNA.

   They are targeting the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam, and other U.S. military bases in the Pacific as well as South Korea, the statement added.

   The White House denounced the North's latest threats as a "pattern" to escalate tensions.

   "We do look at this as part of a pattern, and we respond in the way that we always have," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.