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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 246 (January 24, 2013)

President-elect Park's N. Korea Policy Focused on Inducing Changes

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The incoming government of President-elect Park Geun-hye is expected to focus its North Korea policy on getting the communist North to embrace changes, multiple sources said on Jan. 20.

   Park's transition team had received policy briefings from the foreign and unification ministries and collected opinions from private experts over the past weeks before finalizing a broad picture of its North Korea policy, said the sources.

   They explained that the tentative direction of North Korea policy has been based mostly on the viewpoint and philosophy of the president-elect, who clearly said last week that the primary policy goal toward North Korea is to lead the North to make changes and become a responsible member of the global community.

   Specifically, Park is expected to fine-tune her government's foreign affairs, unification and defense policies in a way that induces Pyongyang to scrap an anticipated nuclear test and additional provocations and choose the path to reform and opening, they noted.

   Accordingly, Park's campaign pledge for a "Korean Peninsula trust process," which calls for large-scale international economic cooperation projects in the North after its denuclearization and restoration of inter-Korean relations, will also likely be focused on inducing changes in the North.

   Inter-Korean relations have effectively been cut off during the Lee Myung-bak administration due to a string of provocations committed by North Korea and the hard-line response by Seoul.

   In 2010, North Korea sank a South Korean naval vessel resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors and shelled an island in the Yellow Sea that left four dead, while in 2008 a woman tourist was killed at the Mount Kumgang resort. The North also detonated its second nuclear device in May 2009 and launched a long-range rocket late last year despite warnings issued by the international community. Seoul halted most exchanges and cooperation projects between the two sides in May 2010.

   The sources said that Park's foreign policy will also be focused on changing Pyongyang's attitude through closer coordination with the United States, China, Japan and Russia. In this regard, Park said recently that China has a "very big role" to play and decided to send her first envoy to Beijing this week.

   They also said that Park's defense policy will be designed to deter the North's provocations and nuclear development based on solid defense footing, forecasting that a breakthrough in cross-border relations is unlikely in the near future unless the North decides to undertake drastic changes in its provocative attitude.

   "Park was elected on the basis of solid support from conservative voters. It will be difficult for her government to unconditionally attempt to drastically improve relations with North Korea," said a diplomatic source in Seoul.

   "Improvement of inter-Korean relations will largely depend on the North's attitude. Pyongyang is unlikely to make a sudden policy and attitude change, like an abandonment of nuclear weapons. In this sense, an immediate improvement in relations between the two Koreas may be unlikely," he said.


Gov't Mulls Granting Permission to Hold Inter-Korean Football Matches

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government is weighing whether or not to permit inter-Korean football matches to take place as the international community moves to penalize North Korea for the launching of a long range rocket last month, sources said on Jan. 22.

   The deliberations come as Gangwon Province and the city of Incheon asked for permission from the Ministry of Unification to hold football matches with North Korean teams.

   Gangwon, located in the northeastern part of the country, said it wants to hold a women's football match as part of a larger event in Hainan, China, while the port city west of Seoul said it wants to invite a North Korean team to compete in the Incheon Peace Cup International Youth Football Match. The Hainan match is to celebrate the province's successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

   The two regional governments submitted requests on Jan. 16 that could allow them to take part in the matches and make contact with North Korean nationals. Incheon asked for permission so they could compete with a North Korean team from Jan. 24 through Jan. 27, while Gangwon asked for a contact window running from Jan. 20 to Jan. 26.

   Both regional authorities said they have not received word from the unification ministry. Under South Korean law, all planned contact with North Koreans must be cleared beforehand.

   Related to the requests submitted, the ministry in charge of inter-Korean relations said there is a need to approach this matter carefully.

   "The international community is in the process of discussing what sanctions need to be imposed on the communist country for the rocket launch so if we permit contact at this juncture, it can complicate matters," an official said.

   He said that the timing of the contact requests, even though they are not for political events, is not opportune and hinted that South Korea is taking a wait and see stance to determine what actions will be taken by other countries.

   The rocket launch issue is being examined by the United Nations Security Council, with the United States and its allies claiming that the three-stage Unha-3 rocket that blasted off from Tongchang-ri launch site on Dec. 12 was used by Pyongyang to test banned ballistic missile technology. South Korean and U.S. engineers who checked the debris from the rocket speculated that the rocket could fly as far as 10,000 kilometers, putting at least half of the United States within the rocket's range.

   Despite delayed answer from the ministry, the official said that there is a win-win solution.

   He said that if the events are put off till a later date, an arrangement can be made to move forward on the inter-Korean exchanges.

   The official pointed out that despite the ban on most cross-border exchanges, Seoul's position is to permit non-political contacts and to allow humanitarian assistance. The ban was imposed after the North sank a South Korean naval vessel in the Yellow Sea in March 2010.

   Meanwhile, some observers said that the football matches could help determine how the incoming Park Geun-hye administration will approach the North Korean issue.

   The 60-year-old Park, who will become South Korea's first female president on Feb. 25, said she wants to restart dialogue with North Korea and expand economic cooperation and exchange. She, however, said Seoul will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea and will take firm actions against future provocations.

   Pyongyang detonated two nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 and claimed repeatedly that other countries should acknowledge it as a nuclear power.