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2008/10/23 10:47 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 26 (October 23, 2008)

   *** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Lack of Inter-Korean Dialogue Obstructs Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Oct. 20 that his government is prepared to provide North Korea with "comprehensive assistance," but that such aid is obstructed by the slow progress in denuclearization efforts and Pyongyang's boycott of dialogue with Seoul.

   "We will continue to exercise patience in our steady diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea to help it become a responsible member of the international community," Yu said in a speech marking the 63rd anniversary of United Nations Day.

   North Korea threatened last week to cut off all inter-Korean ties and accused the conservative South Korean government of pursuing a policy of confrontation with Pyongyang.

   Seoul's relations with the North chilled considerably following the inauguration in February of the Lee Myung-bak government, which broke from the two previous liberal administrations' policies of engagement with Pyongyang. Critics of the previous administrations' polices claimed that the aid had gone directly to the nuclear-armed neighbor's military.

   Upon taking office, the Lee government suspended delivery of rice and fertilizer to the North, saying the resumption of such shipments would be tied to the denuclearization process and Pyongyang's stance toward Seoul. In protest, the North halted all government-level contact with the South.

   "As progress is made in denuclearization, we stand ready to support economic development in North Korea by providing comprehensive assistance measures in cooperation with the international community," the minister said. "However, inter-Korean relations are currently at an impasse as a result of the North's refusal to resume dialogue."

   The North struck a deal with the U.S. earlier this month on a verification scheme for Pyongyang's nuclear declarations, submitted in June as part of an aid-for-denuclearization deal. In return, Pyongyang was taken off a U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism.

   Several days following the delisting, however, the North's state-run newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, ran editorials threatening to cancel remaining inter-Korean economic projects, including the joint-run industrial complex at Kaesong, as well as South Korean tourism to the ancient city.

  
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N. Korea Rejects Visit by Conservative S. Korean Lawmakers

SEOUL, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea banned two conservative South Korean lawmakers from visiting the country to join a completion ceremony of an inter-Korean textile factory amid frozen ties between the two governments, a businessman organizing the trip said Oct. 21.

   The North's rejection came four days after the communist state threatened to cut even civilian ties with South Korea if its conservative government continues pursuing a tough policy toward the North.

   Pyongyang stopped official dialogue with Seoul and expelled all South Korean government officials from its territory about a month after President Lee Myung-bak took office in late February, expressing anger because of his North Korea policy.

   A North Korean office dealing with cooperation programs with the South sent a fax on Oct. 20 to inform the two -- Chung Doo-un and Kwon Young-se of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) -- that they would not be permitted to visit the North, Kim Jeong-tae, chairman of Andong Hemp Textiles, told Yonhap News Agency.

   They had planned a four-day trip to Pyongyang and other tourist destinations in the North from Oct. 29 to see the company launching the first-ever inter-Korean joint venture in the North Korean capital.

   "The North gave no specific reason for turning down their request to visit," Kim said. He added Pyongyang may have felt it inappropriate to invite the conservative lawmakers at a time when governmental ties are tense.

   Another GNP lawmaker, Jeong Tae-keun, canceled his application for the trip a few days ago because of his busy work schedule, his aide said.

   Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, confirmed the report and said Pyongyang cited unspecified "internal matters" when it turned down their requests.

   The GNP has recently been the target of intense North Korean media criticism for its conservative view on North Korea's nuclear, human rights and other major issues. Pyongyang calls it a "traitorous and anti-reunification party" trying to disrupt inter-Korean relations.

   The North, however, promised to invite a third GNP lawmaker -- Kim Gwang-lim -- to the country, according to Andong's chairman. The lawmaker was the South's top delegate to the inter-Korean economic cooperation talks as a vice minister of finance and economy under the previous liberal government led by President Roh Moo-hyun.

   About 270 South Koreans, including businessmen and politicians, plan to attend a long-awaited ceremony to mark the completion of the Pyongyang Hemp Textiles plant on Oct. 30.

   The plant is a 50-50 cooperative effort between the South's Andong Hemp Textiles and the North's Saebyol General Trading Co., with a total investment of US$30 million. The ceremony has been delayed for about two months due to deteriorating inter-Korean relations.

  
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Seoul Willing to Improve Ties with Pyongyang Despite Threats

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul's top official on North Korea said Oct. 22 his government will continue to engage Pyongyang despite repeated threats by the socialist state.

   North Korea threatened to cut civilian ties with South Korea last week if Seoul's conservative government maintains its hard-line policy toward the North.

   "We will not directly respond to North Korea's negative actions, but stay calm and firm while continuing to push for dialogue and cooperation between the two Koreas," Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong said in a keynote address to a Seoul forum.

   Pyongyang has already stopped official dialogue with Seoul, and evicted all South Korean government officials from its territory about a month after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in late February.

   Lee has vowed to link further inter-Korean cooperation programs -- not humanitarian aid -- to North Korea's nuclear disarmament. North Korea did not request an annual shipment of fertilizer and food aid from the South this year. Seoul has said it is willing to provide aid if such a request is made.

   Kim urged Pyongyang to return to dialogue, reaffirming that Seoul respects the two inter-Korean summit accords reached under previous administrations to promote peace and reconciliation, along with all other bilateral agreements.

   "The government respects the spirit of inter-Korean agreements aimed at improving relations," the minister said. "In this context, the government hopes the two Koreas can find practical ways to implement the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 Declaration."

   "If North Korea believes that implementing the Oct. 4 Declaration is such a critical issue, it should come forward and engage in dialogue without any conditions," he said. "We must sit down and have a serious discussion on how to implement the agreement."
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