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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 251 (February 28, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

President Park Confirms to Continue Trust-building Process on Korean peninsula

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new government led by President Park Geun-hye is likely to leave the door open for dialogue with North Korea despite Pyongyang's third nuclear test earlier this month.

   Park, who was sworn in as the 18th-term president on Feb. 25, pledge in her inauguration address to push ahead with the trust-building process while simultaneously urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

   "There is no doubt that we are faced today with an extremely serious security environment but neither can we afford to remain where we are," Park said, reaffirming her commitment of building trust between the two Koreas.

   Park, 61, takes over as president at a time when South Korea is struggling to rein in an unruly North Korea that is rattling its nuclear saber with its third atomic test, energize its slowing economy -- Asia's fourth-largest -- and narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.
"Through a trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula I intend to lay the groundwork for an era of harmonious unification where all Koreans can lead more prosperous and freer lives and where their dreams can come true."

   Park said she will try to foster trust between the two Koreas in a step-by-step manner based on strong deterrence. She said trust can be built through dialogue and by honoring promises that have already been made. "It is my hope that North Korea will abide by international norms and make the right choice so that the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula can move forward."

   North Korea is by far her most pressing issue. Just two weeks earlier, Pyongyang defiantly carried out its third nuclear test, bringing the specter of a North Korea capable of flying nuclear warheads atop long-range missiles, closer to reality. Pyongyang has also threatened to "take the second and third stronger steps in succession."

   "North Korea's recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself," Park said. "I urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions without delay and embark on the path to peace and shared development."

   She continued, "It is my sincere hope that North Korea can progress together as a responsible member of the international community instead of wasting its resources on nuclear and missile development and continuing to turn its back to the world in self-imposed isolation."

   Analysts said Park's inauguration address confirmed that the trust-building process remains intact and that there is the possibility that the new government may work quickly to improve the strained inter-Korean relations.

   "President Park Geun-hye's inauguration speech has the strategic ambiguity of pressuring North Korea to discard nuclear programs and also showing (her) plan to keep the door open," said Chang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

   Park is likely to wait for dialogue with North Korea to resume by keeping the door open instead of rushing for relations to improve.

   If North Korea refrains from making further provocations, there is the chance for South Korea to try to create dialogue with the North about cooperation and exchange. So, whether relations will improve is up to North Korea.

   It is, however, very uncertain what actions North Korea will take. South Korea and the U.S. are scheduled to conduct two joint exercises, the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle, in March and April. North Korea harshly denounced the exercises and threatened to retaliate.

   Chief of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) Panmunjom Mission claimed in a message sent on Feb. 23 to the commander of the U.S. Forces in South Korea that "a grave situation where a war may break out any moment prevails in Korea due to the brigandish moves of the U.S. and its allied forces to isolate and stifle the DPRK, taking issue with its just satellite launch and underground nuclear test for protecting its sovereignty."

   The North Korean mission chief threatened that "if your side ignites a war of aggression by staging the reckless joint military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle again, from that moment your fate will be hung by a thread with every hour."

   "You had better bear in mind that those igniting a war are destined to meet a miserable destruction while a great victory is in store for the guardians of justice," the message read.
If Pyongyang dares to commit another provocation, there is no room for the improvement of relations.

   If North Korea conducts a fourth nuclear test, the stalled relations will last for a substantial period of time, analysts said.

   During a dinner on Feb. 25 with visiting foreign guests, including Singaporean Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce, Park reiterated that North Korea's decision will be important for the future of the Korean Peninsula.

   "It's time to break the vicious cycle of mistrust, confrontation and uncertainty between the two Koreas," she said. "In order for the two Koreas to form trust and to achieve sustainable peace, North Korea's choice is important."

   North Korea is expected to take a wait-and-see position towards South Korea's new administration as it tries to understand Seoul's stance towards Pyongyang, analysts said.

   The analysts said Park's message to North Korea, which can be seen as vague, may force the communist regime to wait before formulating its policy towards Seoul.

   They said the North may expect the Park administration to be friendlier and more flexible than her immediate predecessor Lee Mynug-bak who issued explicit warnings to the North in his inauguration speech in 2008.

   During Lee's five-year term, inter-Korean relations tumbled to their lowest levels in years after the North's sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of a border island in 2010.

   Inter-Korean relations further deteriorated following the North's rocket launch in December 2012 and the recent nuclear test carried out in defiance of the international community. The North had detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

   The North may take a wait-and-see stance, at least for now, he said.

   When former South Korean president Lee took office in 2008, North Korea waited more than a month to respond to Seoul's stance towards Pyongyang. The North also started attacking the Roh Moo-hyun government about two months after it took office in 2003.