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2009/03/05 11:03 KST


President Lee Urges N. Korea to Abandon Missile Launch

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on North Korea March 1 to halt its preparations to launch its claimed satellite, widely seen as an attempt to test its missile capabilities, saying dialogue and cooperation are its surest ways to survival.

   "What really protects North Korea is not nuclear weapons or missiles, but its cooperation with the South and cooperation with the international community," Lee said in a speech at a ceremony marking the 1919 independence uprising against the Japanese colonial rule of Korea. "Denuclearization is the shortcut for North Korea to become a member of the international community and develop," he added.

   The remarks came shortly after the North last week said it is preparing to launch a communications satellite, not a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, as had been suspected for weeks.

   South Korean and U.S. officials have noted that any North Korean launch, whether a satellite or a missile, would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in 2006, prohibiting Pyongyang from any missile-related activities. Experts also say there is little technological difference between firing a satellite or a long-range missile.

   The South Korean president said Seoul is ready to "greatly help" North Korea should Pyongyang decide to give up its nuclear ambition and start working with the international community. "The doors to unconditional (inter-Korean) dialogue remain wide open even now. The South and the North must talk at the earliest date possible," he said.

   Pyongyang has cut off virtually all dialogue with Seoul since the South Korean president was inaugurated a year ago on Feb. 25, vowing to end what he called "unconditional concessions" to the communist nation by his two liberal predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.


Two Koreas Exchange Verbal Attacks on N. Korea's Human Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea urged North Korea to take "necessary measures" to address its abysmal human rights record at the regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council held in Geneva on March 3. But the North's envoy immediately fired back at the South's comments.

   In his keynote speech, South Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo urged North Korea to "take necessary measures to improve its human rights situation in full compliance with its obligations under international human rights law and relevant treaties to which it is a party."

   Shin added his government will work closely with the international community to improve human rights conditions not only in North Korea, but also in "every corner of the globe."

   The North's envoy immediately lambasted Shin's comments. "The impertinent remarks by the South's chief delegate on the DPRK's (North Korea) human rights issue instigate confrontation and hatred," Choe Myong-nam, a councilor at the North's diplomatic mission to Geneva, said.

   The remarks should be criticized in "the strongest tone" as they violate the contents and spirit of the historic inter-Korean summit deals on reconciliation in 2000 and 2007, he argued.

   Choe added the South Korean government should be held responsible for all consequences stemming from such an anti-North Korean campaign, but did not elaborate. He called for the South to abolish its "draconian" National Security Law first if it really cares about human rights.

   South Korea's tone this year was similar to that of last year's session, held shortly after the launch of the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak. North Korea reacted angrily last year as well.

   Lee's administration broke from the relatively low-key approach taken by his two liberal predecessors by co-sponsoring a U.N. resolution condemning Pyongyang's human rights abuses, marking the first such action for a South Korean government.


Unification Minister Says N. Korean Missile Launch Not Imminent

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is continuing preparations to launch what it claims is a satellite, but an actual launch does not seem imminent, Seoul's unification minister said March 4.

   Hyun In-taek, a hard-line foreign policy expert who took office last month as Seoul's new point man on Pyongyang, also said South Korea is closely working with Washington to deter what appears to be a North Korean tactic to isolate South Korea while trying to talk with the United States.

   "I don't think the launch is very imminent, but various preparations are underway," Hyun said in his first meeting with the press since he took office.

   A missile launch is only a "hypothetical situation," Hyun said, expressing reluctance to predict a date or whether Seoul would support international sanctions against North Korea. "In whatever situation we may be, our government will make every effort to ensure the safety of our citizens," he said.

   North Korea said last month it is preparing to launch a communications satellite into orbit, which South Korea and U.S. officials believe could actually be a test of a long-range missile that in theory could reach the U.S. West Coast. Pyongyang has not said when it will conduct the launch, but some analysts in Seoul point to late March or early April, some time after North Korea holds its long overdue parliamentary elections on March 8.

   Turning to military talks North Korea requested with the U.S.-led United Nations Command in South Korea this week, the minister acknowledged mounting concerns about Pyongyang's apparent efforts to improve relations with Washington while cutting dialogue with Seoul.

   The U.N. Command, led by Gen. Walter Sharp, chief of the U.S. forces in South Korea, oversees the cease-fire along the inter-Korean border, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

   "The governments of South Korea and the U.S. share a deep understanding about this concern and are closely cooperating on addressing it," Hyun said. "Even if North Korea continues to try to talk with the U.S. while isolating the South, it will not be able to succeed," he added.

   Inter-Korean relations have dipped to a record low since President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago, toughening up on North Korea's nuclear program and scrapping his liberal predecessors' policy of providing unconditional aid to the impoverished state. Pyongyang cut off dialogue with Seoul in response to the hard-line policy.

   Hyun suggested there will be no immediate resumption of government-level rice and fertilizer aid, which was suspended last year for the first time in a decade.

   "There should be a certain momentum for the government to resume the aid, but we will actively support aid operations sought by civic organizations and international agencies," Hyun said.

   The minister demanded North Korea stop its increasingly bitter denunciations of Lee. Pyongyang rejected Lee's latest offer of dialogue earlier this week as "disgusting sophism" and called him a "traitor."

   "Our government views North Korean denunciations seriously and demands North Korea immediately suspend them. And we urge North Korea to come forward to the dialogue table," Hyun said.