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2009/02/26 11:04 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 43 (February 26, 2009)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Clinton Sends Clear Message to Pyongyang with Dialogue and Warning

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left South Korea last week after a hectic two-day trip, during which she expressed her commitment to "smart power" and a carrot-and-stick approach to North Korea. According to her remarks in Seoul, the U.S. will likely pursue an engagement policy toward North Korea through direct and multilateral talks.

   Clinton arrived in Seoul as tensions were escalating along the inter-Korean border due to Pyongyang's suspected preparations for a long-range missile test and repeated threats of an armed clash with Seoul. Observers say Pyongyang is trying to get attention from the new U.S. administration under Barack Obama for future negotiations. But the secretary made clear that Pyongyang's tactic of "talking only with the U.S. while shunning dialogue with South Korea" will backfire.

   Nevertheless, the secretary sent an olive branch to the socialist country, stressing that the North Korean nuclear weapons program should be resolved through the six-party talks and dialogue, a strong indication Washington is ready to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang on major issues such as the peace treaty that would end the fragile armistice agreement of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   While in Seoul, she urged North Korea to stop "provocative and unhelpful" acts of escalating tension. She stressed that if North Korea fires a missile again, it would violate the United Nations Resolution 1718, adopted after the North's long-range missile test in 2006. On Feb. 20, Clinton and her South Korean their kind since Barack Obama was sworn in as U.S. president.

   In public statements after the ministerial talks, Clinton fully supported South Korea's position on North Korea's nuclear program, missile threats, and strained inter-Korean ties. They urged North Korea to stop its missile threats and return to dialogue with Seoul. The two ministers also reaffirmed that Seoul and Washington will not allow Pyongyang to acquire nuclear weapons.

   In a press conference after the talks, Yu said South Korea and the United States will not tolerate North Korean nuclear weapons. "We also reached a common view that North Korea must halt provocative activities and unconditionally engage in inter-Korean dialogue as early as possible." Pyongyang indicated on Feb. 16 that it could launch a satellite, refuting speculation that it is preparing for a missile firing. "The North should refrain from violating this resolution ... and also from any and all provocative actions that could harm the six-party talks and aggravate tensions in the region," Clinton said. On Feb. 24, North Korea officially announced it is preparing to launch a communication satellite from its northeastern coast.

   Clinton made clear who is Washington's friend and foe on the peninsula. "(South) Korea's achievement of democracy and prosperity stands in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty across the border to the North," Clinton said. She said the socialist nation is "not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with the Republic of Korea (South Korea)."

   She also called upon Pyongyang to revoke its verbal threats against Seoul and to comply with Seoul's call for dialogue. "We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words they engaged in because it is not fruitful," Clinton said.

   Clinton said her government will closely watch North Korea's response to Washington's diplomatic and financial incentives offered for its denuclearization, saying there should be "no misunderstanding" of where the U.S. stands. "I think it's important that the entire North Korean leadership -- not just Kim Jong-il but the entire leadership -- understands what it is we are offering and expecting," she said at a roundtable with South Korean female journalists, speaking of Pyongyang's top ruler.

   The top U.S. diplomat characterized the current status with Pyongyang as "kind of an assessment period ... We want to reiterate our policy so there is no misunderstanding as to where we stand and what we expect, and we are watching to see how the North Koreans respond." Asked if she would visit Pyongyang and meet Kim, Clinton flatly said she has "no intention or plan at this time. That's not something we are even contemplating," she said.

   Clinton addressed uncertainties surrounding a potential leadership change in North Korea, a sensitive issue she first raised while en route to Seoul on Feb. 19. Answering reporters during her flight to Seoul from Jakarta, Clinton said if there is a succession in the North, "that creates more uncertainty" and "the whole leadership situation is somewhat unclear ... But we are dealing with the government that exists right now. That government is being asked to reengage with the six-party talks to fulfill the obligations they agreed to. We expect them to do so," she added.

   But in Seoul, she further touched on the sensitive topic of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's health and rumors of his successor. "When you are thinking about future dealings with a government that doesn't have a clear succession -- they don't have a vice president, they don't have a prime minister -- that is something you have to think about."

   Kim suffered a stroke last summer, according to South Korean intelligence officials, raising speculation about his health and the post-Kim era. What might happen after Kim's rule has drawn keen attention, as all powers are now concentrated on him. Some U.S. experts have floated views that North Korea will toughen up under a new leadership to consolidate its power. Others expressed worries about a possible failed transition, in which the Pyongyang government may lose its control of its alleged nuclear weapons.

   North Korean state-run media have recently emphasized the themes of "bloodline" and "inheritance." Sources told Yonhap last month that Kim named his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor. With the succession talk considered taboo in North Korea, analysts were discordant about how Pyongyang will respond to Clinton's remarks.

   The Seoul government denies a transition process is imminent, but different signs abound. North Korea will hold parliamentary elections next month, which some analysts say will lay the groundwork for the post-Kim era. The leader has also been promoting his closest aides to the military leadership, including O Kuk-ryol, who helped Kim during his own succession process in the 1980s.

   Pyongyang's saber-rattling is also against the backdrop of a months-long lull in six-nation talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Negotiations among South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan have stalled over ways of verifying Pyongyang's nuclear development activities. North Korea's renewed hostility toward the South after a decade of a reconciliatory mood came in protest of Seoul's refusal to take a carrot-only approach toward Pyongyang.

   On the contrary, Pyongyang has refrained from criticizing the Obama administration, which declared a policy of "tough and direct" diplomacy with Pyongyang.

   Meanwhile, at the press conference, Clinton announced the appointment of Stephen Bosworth, former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, as the envoy who will be handling North Korea issues for the Obama administration. "We need a capable and experienced diplomat to stem our risks from North Korea's nuclear ambitions," she said, adding Bosworth will directly report to her and Obama. Bosworth, currently dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, served as U.S. ambassador to Seoul from 1997-2000, and once worked as head of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization.

   Later in the day, the U.S. diplomat met separately with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak over lunch, an opportunity, she said, to see the Lee administration has "some well thought-out positions" about the bilateral alliance and Seoul's role in global issues. Lee asked for the new U.S. government to strengthen cooperation with Seoul in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis. "It is very important for us to strengthen the relations between (South Korea and the United States), as well as those with Japan, China and Russia to resolve the North Korean issue and other issues," Lee told Clinton.

   She offered an olive branch to the socialist country, too. Speaking to female university students later in the day, Clinton said, "I make the offer again here in Seoul: If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate nuclear weapons, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula's long-standing armistice agreement with a permanent peace treaty and assist immediately the energy and other economic and humanitarian needs of the Korean people."

   Speaking to the Asia Society shortly before her four-nation Asia trip, Clinton held out a set of incentives. "If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the U.S. will be willing to normalize bilateral relations, replace the peninsula's long-standing armistice agreements with a permanent peace treaty and assist in meeting the energy and other economic needs of the North Korean people," she said.

  (END)