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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 223 (August 16, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

President Lee Stresses Principled N. Korea Policy, Unification Preparations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea to give up its nuclear programs, embrace reform and open up to the outside world, saying the South is prepared to help the impoverished nation.

   President Lee made the remarks during his Liberation Day address marking Korea's independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule on Aug. 15. Lee also said the South is open to dialogue with the socialist nation.

   Referring to the deadlocked inter-Korean relations, President Lee emphasized the need to maintain the Seoul government's principle of "normal relations" between the divided halves for sound and sustained development.

   In the address, Lee emphasized, "For South-North Korean relations to develop in a consistent and sound manner, ties between the two sides should first be on a normal footing. All along, the North Korea policy of this Lee administration has been solidly based on this recognition."

   From the start of his administration in early 2008, President Lee has stuck to a policy of "Denuclearization, Openness and 3,000," offering massive aid to the North in return for abandoning its nuclear program and opening up its economy so that per capita income for North Koreans reaches US$3,000.

   North Korea has rejected the offer and has taken numerous belligerent provocations such as its nuclear weapons program and missile launches in defiance of international warning.

   "Superficially, the situation may look different, but in reality, the administration's principled North Korea policy is evaluated as beginning to bring about substantial effect," the president said.

   Then he said Pyongyang has also come to a situation where it has to look straight at reality and consider a transformation. "We will carefully watch for the possible changes," he said.

   The South Korean government has continuously called for the North's reform and opening to become a "normal country from a rogue state" in the international community.

   Ever since North Korea's leadership change following the death of the late leader Kim Jong-il last December, Seoul has closely watched the leadership style of new leader Kim Jong-un while demanding the fledgling leader show the nation's genuine transformation and openness in action, not word.

   Recent reports say the young leader appears to be showing signs of reform and openness to the outside world. The socialist regime will soon implement a new set of economic measures to give some capitalistic value in its economy while partially abolishing the state-controlled rationing system.

   In another case, North Korea's powerful official Jang Song-thaek is on a trip to China this week, the staunchest ally of North Korea, to obtain economic assistance and accelerate joint developments of North Korea's Rason city, Hwanggumphyong and Wihwado economic zones.

   Pyongyang is struggling to reestablish its economy, which has been devastated by its pursuit of nuclear weapons, subsequent international isolation and failure to properly recover from natural disasters.

   Jang's trip to the North's biggest patron comes as Pyongyang is seen expanding its implementation of the so-called June 28 economic measures that reportedly give more autonomy to the operation of state corporations and allow farmers to take in a certain proportion of their harvest.

   Some call the measures a virtual renouncement of the socialist economic system. The reform moves appear to have gained traction after Kim sacked conservative top military commander Ri Yong-ho in July.

   But Seoul officials have said that, although North Korea has made some changes, it is meaningless if it does not make real changes in its policy and direction.

   "What we continue to hope for is for Pyongyang to make the right decision to rejoin the international community and help its people," said a Seoul official who wishes to remain anonymous.

   On July 30, Seoul's Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan cautioned against reading too much into recent reports on North Korea that indicate the new young leader may be breaking from past leadership models, saying it is premature to judge whether Kim Jong-un will change course.

   Some analysts and local news reports have speculated that the confirmation of Ri Sol-ju as Kim's wife was the latest sign of a possible shift from the leadership style of his father, who ruled the North for 17 years with an iron fist.

   The South Korean minister told his aides at a meeting that it was too early to judge the North's new leader. "We should not be swayed by those reports of images," the minister was quoted as saying by one of his aides.

   "Though we should not downplay signs of a change in North Korea and hope such signs will bring a change, do not focus on these images," Kim was quoted as saying. But recently, the North's state body rejected South Korean news reports of possible reform and openness by the young leader as a "silly dream."

   During the Liberation Day address, President Lee also made a remark on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

   "Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was agreed on between the South and North as well as at the six-party talks. It has to be strictly complied with as it also constitutes an international obligation under U.N. Security Council resolutions. On this basis, the South, along with the international community, is ready and willing to help the North."

   Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been frozen since North Korea's failed rocket launch in April. The multilateral negotiating process has been dormant since being stalled since late 2008.

   Although the defiant launch ended in failure, it drew strong condemnation from the U.N. Security Council as a disguised test of ballistic missile technology and led to the collapse of the so-called "Leap Day" deal with the U.S. under which Washington would have resumed food aid to Pyongyang in return for a monitored shutdown of the North's nuclear activities.

   The North moved toward resuming the six-party talks in February by agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment program at the nuclear facility in Yongbyon and other steps in return for food aid from the United States. But it scuttled the deal with the rocket launch seen as a test of its ballistic missile technology.

   Still, concerns persist that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make up for its failed launch. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   A senior official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said President Lee's latest remarks on denuclearization are an indication that South Korea together with the international community are willing to aid North Korea for the improvement of the livelihoods of impoverished North Koreans. He then said Pyongyang's willingness on denuclearization is the testing ground for its genuine change.

   President Lee also hinted at the possibility of humanitarian assistance to the North, saying, "The South is open to inter-Korean dialogue while at the same time being mindful of the human situation in the North."

   The Seoul government has indicated its intent to expand assistance to the North if the country takes a positive attitude toward inter-Korean dialogue. Government-level dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang has almost stopped for years, although civilian groups' aid to the North is partially permitted by the Seoul government. Watchers say it is to be seen if the Seoul government will be able to provide assistance to flood-stricken North Korea, which was devastated by the recent torrential rains, leaving hundreds of people dead and missing.

   Lee said South Korea will continue to make preparations for unification with North Korea. "The ultimate consummation of our liberation consists in national unification. National reunification will be the springboard of a truly greater Republic of Korea," he said, referring to South Korea's official name.

   Lee's remarks on the national unification are a reaffirmation of the Seoul government's policy to accumulate reserve funds for the eventual unification of the two Koreas, as well as to expand the Korean people's strong wish for territorial unification.

   "On the one hand, the Seoul government will strive to open a viable path for coexistence and co-prosperity, and on the other hand, it will steadily prepare for unification," the president said.

   In pursuit of stability and common prosperity in Northeast Asia, in addition to better conditions for peaceful reunification, the South Korean government has long been closely cooperating with the United States, Japan, Russia, the EU and ASEAN nations, Lee said.

   "Unification of the peninsula will also be a great blessing for the neighboring nations as well as all other countries," he said.