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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 243 (January 3, 2013)

S. Korean FM Calls on N. Korea to Make 'Wise, Right Decisions'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Jan. 2 urged North Korea to make "wise and right decisions," a day after the North's young leader stroke a conciliatory tone on ties with the South.

   In his New Year's address, Kim said his ministry "should put our diplomatic focus this year on helping North Korea make wise and right decisions by continuing policy coordinations with our neighboring countries."

   The foreign minister did not mention the New Year's speech made a day earlier by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but pledged full support for South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye to put together Seoul's new diplomatic goals on Pyongyang.

   On Jan. 1, in the first New Year's speech by a North Korean leader since 1994, the North's Kim urged his country to improve its moribund economy, while calling for an end to what he calls "confrontation" with South Korea.

   The apparent conciliatory gesture comes as President-elect Park is preparing to take office next month with a pledge for more engagement with North Korea than her predecessor.

   South Korea and the U.S. are seeking the U.N. Security Council to take a tougher stance to the North's Dec. 12 rocket launch, condemned as a disguised test of banned ballistic missile technology, but China, a key ally of North Korea, is apparently resisting the efforts to impose new sanctions against Pyongyang.

   Starting Tuesday, South Korea began a two-year term on the Security Council, allowing Seoul to have a bigger say in council discussions on the North Korean issue.

   Shortly after the North's latest launch last month, the Security Council held emergency talks and condemned the launch as a clear violation of U.N. resolutions.

   But discussions at the Security Council on how to punish North Korea for launching the rocket have made little progress since then as China, one of the veto-wielding council members, has not responded to a push by Seoul and Washington for tighter sanctions against Pyongyang, Seoul officials said.

   Negotiations at the Security Council about possible responses to the North's launch are likely to begin next week, a senior ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

   "Security Council negotiations are likely to start early next week, although no date for the talks has been set," the official said.

   The North's previous rocket launches were followed by nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and South Korean officials have warned that Pyongyang has completed its preparations for a third nuclear test and was "awaiting a political decision" to go ahead.


Minister: Kim Jong-un Appears Willing to 'Handle' Inter-Korean Relations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's address showed Pyongyang's resolve and will to "handle" the present situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula, a senior government official said on Jan. 2.

   Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told reporters that Kim's speech seems to contain his intention to manage inter-Korean relations, even though the message itself was not special. The address was released on New Year's Day.

   "The message was bland and there was no ground-breaking proposals," the senior policymaker said. He, however, hinted that Kim understood that the political landscape in Northeast Asia was changing with new leaders taking over in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo.

   The incumbent leader of the reclusive communist country, who took over the country in late 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il, called for building up economic power and handling tensions with South Korea.

   Yu's remarks come as President-elect Park Geun-hye has pledged to engage in talks with North Korea and try to ease tensions after she takes power on Feb. 25. The 60-year-old Park won the Dec. 19 race on the conservative ruling Saenuri Party ticket.

   The minister then said that in the past Seoul had tried to engage Pyongyang with "good intentions" but made little progress.

   He said despite such failures, the incoming administration should continue to encourage the North to change.

   For the future, Yu said that South Korea should take the initiative in carrying out dialogue with the North because the country is directly affected by developments taking place across its northern border.

   The minister speculated that the Park government will probably not push forward sudden changes but opt to make modifications to existing policies and overcome past shortcomings.

   Yu, meanwhile, said that despite concerns raised by some, the outside world does not oppose plans that could lead to the expansion of the Kaesong Industrial Complex run by South Korean companies in North Korea.

   "As long as there are comprehensive improvements in South-North ties there is no reason for other countries to express concern," he said.

   The official claimed that members of the European Union are sympathetic toward extending favorable tariff rates for products made in Kaesong. Such a move could give a boost to the complex and greatly improve inter-Korean cooperation.

   The complex that went into operation 10 years ago is considered the crowning achievement of late President Kim Dae-jung's rapprochement policy toward the North.