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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 249 (February 14, 2013)

Park, Rival Parties' Chiefs Urge N. Korea to Call off Nuclear Test

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President-elect Park Geun-hye and leaders of South Korea's ruling and opposition parties warned North Korea on Feb. 7 to call off its nuclear test threat or face "strong" punishment from the international community.

   Park, ruling Saenuri Party chief Hwang Woo-yea and his main opposition Democratic United Party counterpart Moon Hee-sang issued the rare joint warning after emergency security talks, stressing that a nuclear-armed North Korea is unacceptable under any circumstances.

   "The president-elect and the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties express serious concern about North Korea openly talking about threats of provocations, including a nuclear test, and urges North Korea to immediately halt this," a joint statement said.

   They also warned that the North will "face a strong response from countries of the six-party talks and the international community, including the U.N., if it pushes ahead with provocations such as a nuclear test," according to the statement.

   The six-party talks are the international negotiating process aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs and involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, the United States and Russia. The talks have been suspended since the last session in late 2008.

   The rare bipartisan talks were set up after Park proposed them a day earlier, saying the North's nuclear threat is posing a serious challenge to South Korea's security. It was Park's first meeting with the opposition chief since the December election.

   Tensions have been running high on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea threatened last month to conduct its third nuclear test in response to a new U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Pyongyang's Dec. 12 long-range rocket launch.

   Officials say the North has completed all preparations and could conduct a test at any time.

   Park told the leaders of the rival parties that the nuclear issue is not just a matter between the South and the North, but an issue that seriously threatens the entire international community, according to her spokesman Park Sun-kyoo.

   She also stressed the need to break the cycle of "rewarding bad behavior," he said.

   The joint statement also urged Pyongyang to comply with U.N. resolutions banning any nuclear or missile tests and honor its own denuclearization pledge. It also called on the North to show an "attitude of genuine cooperation," saying it is the starting point for better relations and sustainable peace between the two sides.

   They also asked the government and the military to maintain a strong security posture so as not to cause concern among the public during the power transition period, and agreed to continue to work closely to cope with North Korean provocations, the statement said.

   Park, set to be sworn in on Feb. 25, has repeatedly said North Korea's nuclear development is unacceptable and that Pyongyang should immediately drop its nuclear test plans. She has also warned the North would gain nothing but "strong" punishment if it forges ahead with a test.

   At the start of The Feb.7 talks, she issued a similar warning.

   "In fact, there is nothing North Korea can gain with nuclear weapons. It will rather face a strong response not only from countries of the six-party talks, but also the United Nations and the international community, and will bring further isolation on itself," she said.

   Park also warned a nuclear test will set back her efforts to improve ties with the North.

   "If North Korea makes a wrong choice this time, it will impede sincere efforts of the new government to build trust and realize sustainable peace between the South and the North," she said.

   The meeting was also closely watched because Park could use the rare session to ask for opposition support for her government's reorganization proposal and her soon-to-be-named nominees for prime minister and other Cabinet positions in parliamentary confirmation hearings.

   The joint statement said that the three sides pledged to unconditionally cooperate with each other on urgent issues, especially those related to people's quality of life, and agreed to launch a consultative body for discussions on overall state affairs.

   Ruling party chief Hwang later told reporters that the issue of Cabinet nominations came up during the talks and he quoted Park as saying that announcement of nominations is expected to be delayed due to the process of vetting candidates. He did not elaborate.

   Park's first choice for prime minister resigned last week over allegations of ethical lapses.

   The government rearrangement proposal, which centers on transferring all of the foreign ministry's trade negotiating functions to the commerce ministry, has been a key contentious issue in parliament as the foreign ministry has protested strongly against losing one of its key roles.

   The opposition party is also against the idea, saying trade negotiating responsibilities should remain under the foreign ministry or a new office should be created under the Prime Minister's Office to exclusively handle such matters.

   Park asked for opposition support for the government reorganization plan.

   "I put this together after reflecting on my parliamentary experiences and what I have felt so far. I hope for your understanding," she told opposition chief Moon, according to sources.

   Moon only said more persuasion efforts are necessary to resolve the issue through dialogue, sources said.


Inter-Korean Trade Hits Record High in 2012

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite rising cross-border tension, the trade between South and North Korea reached a record high last year, government data showed Saturday.

   The volume of trade between the two Koreas reached US$1.97 billion in 2012, inching up from the previous record of $1.91 billion in 2010, according to the data by the Korea Customs Service in Seoul.

   South Korean products worth $896.26 million were shipped to North Korea, up 13.4 percent from the previous year.

   The amount of products that came here from the North jumped 19.3 percent on-year to $1.07 billion, according to the data.

   A total of 99 percent of the volume was shipped through a land route linked to the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong.

   The complex, a key outcome of the inter-Korean summit in 2000, marries South Korean capital and technology with cheap labor from the North.

   The data comes amid growing regional tension over the North's threatened nuclear test in retaliation for a U.N. Security Council resolution that punished Pyongyang for its December rocket launch.


Use of Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund Dives 80 Percent During Lee Gov't

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The amount of the inter-Korean cooperation fund spent during the five-year presidency of conservative Lee Myung-bak plummeted 80 percent compared to his liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, government data showed on Feb. 11.

   The data acquired from the Unification Ministry and Seoul's Export-Import Bank of Korea found that the Roh government spent 2.66 trillion won (US$2.43 billion) of the inter-Korean cooperation fund during his five-year term that began in 2003.

   But the spending of the inter-Korean cooperation fund plunged 80.1 percent to 529 billion won during the incumbent Lee administration, reflecting the virtual freeze in cross-border exchanges and cooperation caused by North Korea's deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and border island in 2010.

   Throughout his term, Lee has stuck to a hard-line stance toward the North's nuclear weapons program. The fund was created in 1991 to support humanitarian and economic exchanges between the divided Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

   Amid the North's threat of its third nuclear test, Lee will leave office on Feb. 25 and the nation will swear in Park Geun-hye of the conservative Saenuri Party as its first woman president.

   The Roh government spent 899 billion won on food shipments and humanitarian projects for the North, compared with 120 billion won spent by the Lee government, the data showed.

   Last year, the Lee government spent 69.4 billion won, or 6.9 percent of the 1.006 trillion won set aside for the inter-Korean cooperation fund, according to the ministry's data. Last year, the fund was used to support construction projects in the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong, as well as for financial aid and loans for inter-Korean businesses, humanitarian projects and the construction of an inter-Korean youth exchange center.