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(News Focus) (NK N-test) N. Korea's nuke test jeopardizing inter-Korean relations
By Lee Joon-seung
SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's third nuclear test may likely jeopardize inter-Korean relations that otherwise could make headway under the incoming Park Geun-hye administration, political sources said Tuesday.

   The 6-7 kiloton nuclear test confirmed by Pyongyang can force Park, who takes office on Feb. 25, to reassess her "Korean Peninsula confidence building process," which she has said is the cornerstone for better inter-Korean relations.

   The process, among other things, calls for building mutual confidence and trust through economic cooperation projects as the North's denuclearization process makes headway. The process, if successful, would eventually lead to "normalization" of South-North relations and bring an end to cross-border confrontation.

   The North's Korean Central News Agency said in a report, monitored in Seoul Tuesday, that the country succeeded in its third underground nuclear detonation of a "smaller and lighter atomic bomb."

  
President-elect Park Geun-hye (L) confers with President Lee Myung-bak after the North detonated a nuclear device on Feb. 12, 2013. (Yonhap)


"On the whole, Park has made clear on numerous occasions that she cannot allow the North to have nuclear weapons, yet stressed her commitment to engaging the communist country in dialogue to deal with all outstanding issues," said one source closely related to the presidential transition team.

   The source said that the North's third nuclear detonation, conducted in defiance of international warnings, will effectively tie up Seoul's options, since South Korea will likely join other countries in punishing its communist neighbor for its latest provocation. Such a stance can cause the North to take a more hardline approach, making it harder for South Korea to make any conciliatory overtures.

   Earlier in the day, Park strongly condemned the North's latest nuclear test, saying that her administration will build up strong deterrence to counter any further North Korean threats, while at the same time working with the international community to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.

   The remarks mean that there will be no partial lifting of the sanctions Seoul imposed on North Korea after one of its warships was torpedoed by North Korea in March 2010. The sanctions included a near blanket ban on cross-border investment and trade.

   Some North Korean watchers said depending on how the international community and South Korea reacts to the third nuclear test, inter-Korean relations may be stalled for up to five more years, until a new administration takes office.

   "Under the present circumstances, it may be hard for the Park administration to make conciliatory gestures, while the North may opt to ignore talks altogether," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University said.

   Right after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning its long-range rocket on Dec. 12, North Korea declared that there will be no more denuclearization talks on the Korean Peninsula.

   Chang speculated that if such developments occurred, South-North relations will have to be snagged for a long time.

   In a statement issued through its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland on Jan. 25, North Korea said that if the South directly joined U.N. sanctions against it, it would consider it as a declaration of war.

   Concern persists that the North may actually provoke armed provocations especially along the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that serves as a de facto maritime border in the Yellow Sea. The navies of both sides bloodily clashed twice along the disuted sea border, resulting in the deaths of dozens of sailors on both sides.

  
South Korean cars line the road leading to North Korea's Kaesong industrial complex. (Yonhap file photo)


Others have said the North may continue to take steps to raise tensions. In 2009, the North detained a South Korea worker at the Kaesong industrial complex that strained relations.

   yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)
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