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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 242 (Dec. 27, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Quick on Report of S. Korean Presidential Election Results

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has reported the results of South Korea's presidential election in an unusually speedy manner, which analysts say could partially indicate Pyongyang's future course of policy toward Seoul's new administration.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) did not specify Park Geun-hye as the President-elect but said in a terse dispatch on Dec. 20 that "The Saenuri Party candidate was elected after a close race in the South's presidential election on Dec. 19, according to domestic and foreign news reports."

   The North's report of the presidential election in the South, which the socialist country is technically at war with, came just one day after the election and is a stark contrast to its reactions shown after previous presidential elections in the South.

   Pyongyang's short, unofficial reaction prompts predictions that the socialist country may watch the political development of South Korea for the time being under the new Seoul administration, to be led by Park Geun-hye.

   For the past weeks, North Korea has openly called for an opposition victory in South Korea's upcoming presidential election, accusing President Lee Myung-bak's conservative government of ruining inter-Korean relations.

   The North did not report Lee's presidential election victory in December 2007. In previous presidential elections, the North waited two to three days after the election before releasing such reports.

   The 60-year-old Park of the ruling Saenuri Party won the election with just over 51 percent of the vote in a tightly contested race against Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party.

   The latest election results were also carried by the North's key radio station, monitored in Seoul, early on Dec. 21.

   "Given the North's speedier-than-expected report of the South Korean presidential election results, it is likely that North Korea will actively start to mend ties with the next administration," said Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

   The North may continue to criticize the Lee administration while showing a willingness to open talks with Park under the condition that the president-elect expresses her stance over previous inter-Korean pacts, the professor said.

   But others say North Korea is likely to watch South Korea's political development with caution as the North tries to decide how to react to the new conservative leader.

   The president-elect has vowed to seek improved ties with the North without compromising the South's national security or sovereignty. Her pledges came amid soured inter-Korean relations that resulted from the hardline stance toward the North under Lee's government.

   The North has demanded the President-elect clarify her position on two joint declarations adopted by her liberal predecessors -- Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- during their 2000 and 2007 summit meetings with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   The declarations call on the two Koreas to actively pursue cooperation in a wide range of fields such as the economy, politics and culture.

   Park also met with North Korea's Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2002 in her capacity as leader of a splinter opposition party, and the two discussed ways to bring peace to the divided Korean Peninsula.

   Still, some said the North could take an aggressive stance in a bid to soften Park's policy.

   Before the election, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a powerful party organization, denounced South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party as a "disaster" that brews "all sources of misfortune" for Koreans.

   On Dec. 21, the Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyogyang newspaper published by Koreans in Japan, criticized Park's victory, defining her as a person who possesses a "Cold War era concept."

   The paper reported that U.S. and European media expressed surprise over the victory of a military dictator's daughter, saying it is a regression from the democracy the country worked hard to achieve.

   Park's election victory is the result of the "queer and distorted recognition of history in which Park's father, a pro-Japanese traitor and military dictator, is respected and protected blindly in South Korea," the paper reported.

   Park's father, Park Chung-hee, seized power through a 1961 military coup and ruled the nation until he was assassinated by one of his closest aides in 1979. The late Park's presidency coincided with the era of sharp military stand-offs between the two Koreas.

   "North Korea is likely to pressure the Park administration to make a choice between confrontation and dialogue with the North," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor and expert of North Korean studies at Korea University in the South.
The North "will also probably put forth its own position and then engage in a kind of mental battle with Park by demanding she show her differences from the Lee Myung-bak administration," said Yoo.

   Before the presidential election, North Korea publicly asked Park to clearly reveal her position on future South and North Korean policies, the KCNA reported on Dec. 1.

   The KCNA also reported that the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of (North) Korea (CPRK) released a seven-point open questionnaire in which it criticized Park as being contradictory in her "policy toward the North."

   "She called for 'keeping promise' while not mentioning the North-South joint declarations. She talked about 'summit talks,' revealing her sordid intention for confrontation between social systems. She is also trying to resort to anti-DPRK nuclear racket and smear human rights campaigns while vociferating about 'trust' and 'cooperation,'" said the KCNA.

   The open questionnaire said deceptive commitments regarding a "policy toward the North" cannot work, stressing that Park needs to face the trend of the times and make a final choice, said the KCNA.

   Analysts say the open questionnaire was designed to emphasize that President Lee Myung-bak's policy on North Korea has been a failure and to press Park to change her commitments on North Korean policy.

   The North's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun said recently, "If a reconciliation-oriented group takes power and moves to improve South-North relations, suspended cooperation and exchange projects in every sector will be reinvigorated."
The North's ruling Workers' Party newspaper said, "The country's steadfast stance is that (the two Koreas) improve South-North relations through dialogue and cooperation rather than confrontation and war in order to move toward peace and national prosperity." The article also said it is urgent to repair the soured South-North relations as soon as possible.

   Analysts say Park Geun-hye is expected to find ways to engage North Korea in a flexible manner reminiscent of then-President Richard Nixon's approach to China in the early 1970s.

   "She has said she will negotiate with Kim Jong-un, the new leader of North Korea, and I believe she will," said Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, in an email interview on Dec. 20. "When she does, she will speak as a conservative leader in the same way that Nixon spoke as a conservative when he reached out to China."

   Gregg, a former CIA officer who headed the Korea Society from 1993 to 2007, has long called for greater engagement with North Korea. He recalled meeting with Park after she traveled to Pyongyang in 2002 and met with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. "She visited Pyongyang and spoke at length with the late Kim Jong-il, with whom she said she felt quite comfortable," Gregg said.

   Gregg said he "complimented her for going to North Korea, given the fact that the North Koreans twice tried to kill her father, and did kill her mother in 1974. "Her reply was impressive: 'We must look to the future with hope, not to the past with bitterness,'" Gregg recounted.