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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 252 (March 7, 2013)

N. Korea's Nuke Capacity at Top Level: S. Korean FM Nominee

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's nuclear capacity is first-rate as well as fully home-grown, President Park Geun-hye's nominee for the foreign minister said on Feb. 28, ruling out the use of any military-enforced sanctions to punish the reclusive regime.

   "North Korea's nuclear capacity is at a top level and its (technology) independence has reached a substantial point," Yun Byung-se told lawmakers during a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

   He, however, dismissed the possibility of pursuing military-enforced sanctions against the socialist state, saying "major U.N. Security Council member countries are not looking at that option."

   "I don't expect we'll put military measures on the table," he said.

   North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, making it difficult for President Park Geun-hye to pursue her "trustpolitik" doctrine that calls for engagement with North Korea while standing firm against any provocations by the North.

   Yun was adamant that North Korea should not be regarded as a nuclear power, turning down the idea of sending an emissary to Pyongyang to smooth out the frayed relationship between the two countries, saying "it's too early to bring it up at this stage."

   South Korea's new government "will firmly cope with any provocations from North Korea, based on the unwavering principle that it will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea," he said.

   Noting the impact of the North's expanding nuclear capacity on the Korean Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia, he stressed the need for international cooperation in order to ease tensions.

   During the hearing, Yun warned that North Korea will be the "biggest victim" of its own nuclear ambitions, that Seoul will not tolerate the North's pursuit of atomic weapons.

   "The biggest victim of a reckless nuclear test will be none other than North Korea," he said, echoing the warning made by President Park in her inauguration speech.

   South Korea and the United States are pushing for the U.N. Security Council to adopt tougher sanctions against the North for the third nuclear test but no significant progress has so far been reported.

   Seoul officials have admitted that China, the North's last-remaining major ally and one of the veto-wielding Council members, has expressed opposition to including a reference to Chapter 7 in a new resolution against North Korea. Chapter 7 allows all U.N. member states to enforce a resolution by military means.

   Under South Korean law, Cabinet nominees are subject to hearings but do not need parliamentary approval to take their posts. But it is expected to take days or longer for Yun to take office because Park's government reorganization plan is still held up in the National Assembly.

   With 32 years of experience in diplomacy, Yun, 60, is known for being one of the key architects of Park's "trustpolitik."

   Before joining Park's camp, Yun served as senior coordinator at the National Security Council and senior presidential secretary for foreign and security affairs until early 2008.

   Park inherited troubled relations with Japan, which has reinforced actions to lay claim to the South Korean islets of Dokdo, which lie closer to South Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

   Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have frayed following an unprecedented visit to Dokdo last August by her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who cited Tokyo's unrepentant attitude over its brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as a key reason for his trip.

   Asked by a lawmaker about Park's potential visit to Dokdo, Yun replied, "Because Dokdo is our territory, I think it is not a big deal for our president to visit there if necessary."

   "Japan has been responsible for worsening bilateral relations surrounding Dokdo," Yun said.

   Yun also blamed Japan for "trying to make Dokdo a territory of dispute" when the country protested against Lee's visit to the Korean territory.


S. Korea Has No Specific Plans to Send Humanitarian Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea does not have any plans at present to offer humanitarian aid to North Korea with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) deliberating on how to penalize the socialist country for its latest nuclear test, a government official said on Feb. 28.

   The Unification Ministry official, who declined to be identified, said Seoul maintains the position that it can offer assistance to help the plight of sick people and children regardless of political and military considerations.

   "This has always been the position maintained by previous governments as well as the new Park Geun-hye administration," he stressed. The official, however, said Seoul needs to review what the UNSC eventually decides to do before it takes action.

   "President Park has promised to give assistance to the North, but at the same time she has made clear that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons," he pointed out, hinting Pyongyang's decision to test a nuclear device on Feb. 12 is making it hard to engage in constructive dialogue. The test was the third conducted by Pyongyang following the 2006 and 2009 detonations.

   He also pointed out that with the incoming unification minister awaiting his parliamentary confirmation, there are no plans at present to actually push forward measures to provide humanitarian assistance to the North.

   The expert on Seoul's North Korean policy setting, in addition, said that despite some media speculations that Seoul may donate money through global organizations such as the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization to indirectly give relief to the North, neither of these groups have formally asked for Seoul's assistance.

   Seoul, meanwhile, provided a little over US$2 million worth of aide to the North last year through the International Vaccine Institute based in South Korea.

   Beyond this, inter-Korean cooperation has made little headway after Seoul cut off most ties after a South Korean warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010.


Seoul Keeps Close Watch over N.K. after Pyongyang's Threat to End Cease-fire

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is keeping a close watch over North Korea amid heightened concern the communist nation may attempt further provocations, an official said on March 6, after Pyongyang said it will abandon the cease-fire with the South.

   The North's military issued the menacing statement on March 5 evening, angrily protesting annual military exercises South Korea is conducting jointly with the United States and international efforts to slap new sanctions on Pyongyang for its third nuclear test.

   Kim Yong-chol, a hard-line North Korean general suspected of involvement in a series of provocations against the South, read the statement on state TV, saying the North "will completely declare invalid" the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The North also said it will cut off a military phone line at the truce village of Panmunjom.

   "There will be a defense ministry statement coming out on this," a presidential official said, adding that the North's statement can be taken as meaning that the North may attempt provocations because a "high-level person" read the statement.

   "We're keeping a close watch over the situation," he said, adding that Pyongyang could issue a clearer position after the U.N. Security Council adopts a new sanctions resolution around Thursday.

   The presidential office is handling the matter in the context of the National Security Council, and Kim Jang-soo, who has been named to head the national security office, is exercising oversight over the handling of North Korea issues, the official said.

   President Park Geun-hye plans to establish the security office as part of a government reorganization to make it play the role of a "control tower" on security issues. But its formal establishment has been delayed as the reorganization bill is pending in parliament.

   On March 6, senior presidential foreign affairs and security secretary Ju Chul-ki reported to presidential chief of staff Huh Tae-yeol that the government is taking firm control of the situation regarding North Korea, presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung said.

   Kim, the nominee for the national security office chief, is also making the best effort to handle the situation, Yoon said, though Kim could not attend a meeting of senior presidential secretaries due to the parliamentary deadlock over the government reorganization bill.

   North Korea issues harsh rhetoric when South Korea conducts joint military exercises with the U.S., denouncing them as a rehearsal for an invasion of the socialist nation. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly said the drills are purely defensive.