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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 255 (March 28, 2013)
*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Seoul's New Government Approves First Private-level Aid Provision to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea approved on March 22 the first shipment of humanitarian aid by a private charity group to North Korea since President Park Geun-hye took office in February.

   "This latest approval was given for the pure humanitarian need to help tuberculosis patients in North Korea," a unification ministry spokesman said.

   Under the approval, Eugene Bell, a South Korean charity group, will ship tuberculosis medicine worth 6.78 million won (US$607,722) to eight tuberculosis clinics run by the South Korean group in North Korea. The shipment is expected to be delivered in April, the official said.

   This marks the first aid provision approved by the ministry since Park took office on Feb. 25.

  
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President Park Calls for Steady Development of Inter-Korean Relations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on March 27 called for a steady development of inter-Korean relations in a way that will lead to lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

   The president made the remarks during a joint policy briefing by the foreign and unification ministries as she outlined the new government's aims with regards to North Korea issues.

   "The new government's foreign and North Korea policy is designed to establish peace and a foundation for reunification by building and restoring trust between the South and the North upon firm (national) security," Park said at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

   "Without rushing and in the same way that we would lay one brick after another, based on trust, (we) will have to develop South-North relations step by step and create sustainable peace."

   The president also stressed the importance of principles and consistency in pushing policies, saying if North Korea provokes, it will have to pay the price, while if it keeps its promises, the South should do the same.

   "The peace attained by gaining each other's trust can then become the true peace the people wish for and the foundation for reunification," Park said.

   The government should seek a national agreement and consensus on any foreign or unification policy because only then will policies last and survive changes in administration, she added.

   Park has made trust building a cornerstone of her policy on North Korea, pledging to provide large-scale international economic assistance to the North in return for steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

   However, the socialist nation's recent war threats, in addition to its missile and nuclear tests over the past few months, have undermined her efforts to launch the process.

  
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Seoul to Seek Family Reunion Talks with Pyongyang This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will seek to hold talks with North Korea this year to help arrange reunions of separated families and try to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the Ministry of Unification said on March 27.

   In its 2013 policy plan reported to President Park Geun-hye, the ministry said it will propose meetings between the two countries' Red Cross groups to hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War (1950-53) "at an appropriate time."

   About 81,800 South Koreans have registered with the government as having been parted from their families in the North during the three-year-long conflict. Since first holding reunion events in 2000, the two countries had held such events almost every year before they were suspended during the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.

   Seoul will also seek official government-to-government talks with North Korea to discuss ways to curb provocative rhetoric and actions by Pyongyang, according to the policy plan.

   "I cannot say now in detail when the reunion project will take place," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a news briefing after he reported to the chief executive. Due to the heightened tensions, it is not the right time for such proposals to the North, he said, adding the two Koreas first have to overcome the currently confrontational conditions before holding reunion events.

   The unification ministry also plans to continue its humanitarian aid to the underprivileged in the North through international organizations, including the World Health Organization, as well as local private aid groups, the report said.

   The plans come as Park's signature "trust building" policy toward the North is being delayed amid escalating tensions over the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test and continued military threats.

   Almost all trade and exchanges with the North were severed in the punitive May 24 measures, which the South adopted in 2010 to punish the North for torpedoing the South Korean corvette Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March that year.

   Park has sought to depart from her predecessor Lee's hard-line stance and leave the door open for negotiations with the socialist country.

   "Responsible measures should first be taken by North Korea" in order for the South to lift the punitive measures, Ryoo said. The South and North may be able to lift the measures if they can sit together for talks.

   South Korea has demanded a sincere apology from the North for the deadly sinking, but the communist country has strongly denied its involvement and denounced the South for falsely putting blame on it.

   The ministry will use both pressure and talks in order to help induce the North to make the "right choice," the report said.

   Despite the currently icy relations, South Korea will continue its exchanges with the North in the sector of national culture and heritage and eventually seek to expand their ties to the economic, academic, religious and sports segments, according to the policy plan.

   As part of efforts to rejuvenate the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the only remaining joint economic project between the two Koreas, the ministry will try to ensure goods made at the complex are given the same status as goods produced in South Korea for trade purposes. The status would qualify the goods for low-tariff benefits in trade with the countries the South has free trade agreements with, including the U.S. and the European Union.

   South Korea will also consistently retain its principle of not tolerating provocations and helping to denuclearize the North, according to the policy plan.

   "I hope the Unification Ministry will solve the current dire situation. I will put forth efforts to make that happen," Ryoo said. "The ministry will take step-by-step actions to show the Park administration's North Korean policy stance to the North and the policy, if properly conveyed to the North, would expectedly induce changes in the North's attitude."

  
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S. Korea to Delink Humanitarian Aid from N. Korea's Denuclearization Actions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will delink humanitarian assistance to North Korea from overall diplomatic developments with Pyongyang and its denuclearization actions, in the early stages of a "trust-building" process with the North, ministry officials said on March 27.

   Unveiling detailed diplomatic goals for the new engagement policy with North Korea proposed by President Park Geun-hye, a high-ranking ministry official also brushed aside concerns about to what extent the U.S. will support the initiative by Park to expand inter-Korean relations, saying Washington "fully understands" the new approach by Seoul.

   Park has pledged to pursue the "trust-building" policy with North Korea that calls for more engagement with the North, while, at the same time, not tolerating Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

   In an annual policy briefing to Park on March 27, the foreign ministry summarized Park's initiative as a three-step approach in which South Korea will first provide humanitarian aid to North Korea while calling for the North to keep the agreements made with the South.

   If the first-stage measure is successful in building confidence between the two Koreas, South Korea will expand inter-Korean economic cooperation without linking it to the North's nuclearization actions, the high-ranking ministry official said.

   The third-stage step is for large-scale government assistance, but it will be possible only if North Korea demonstrates its sincerity for denuclearization through actions, the official said.

   "From the start, the Korean Peninsula trust-building process does not link to North Korea's denuclearization," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   "If confidence is built throughout the first two stages, the third stage of large-scale assistance will be linked to progress in the North's denuclearization," the official said.

   So far, the U.S. has maintained its stance that it won't return to nuclear talks with North Korea unless the North takes "irreversible steps" to denuclearize.

   However, numerous analysts have raised doubts over Washington's so-called "strategic patience" approach toward North Korea, a policy of shunning direct talks with the North until it agrees to abide by past nuclear commitments.

   Despite diplomatic efforts and international sanctions, North Korea has continued to develop its missile and nuclear programs.

   The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since April 2009, when the North left the negotiating table and conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

   Tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's third nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. to impose new sanctions against the totalitarian regime.

   Asked about a possible contradiction with Washington's "strategic patience" policy, the official replied, "Washington welcomes the process of making a change on the Korean Peninsula."

   "And the trust-building process also contains the issue of denuclearization, the U.S. fully understands the formula," the official said.

   Still, the North's threats against South Korea and the U.S., in response to the latest U.N. sanctions, make it difficult for Park to pursue the "trust-building" policy.

   South Korea recently approved the first shipment of humanitarian aid to North Korea since Park was inaugurated, allowing the local charity group Eugene Bell to send tuberculosis medicine to the North.

   The official described the approval as a "meaningful step" to proceed with the new engagement policy with North Korea, although it is still early to judge how the North will respond to the South's conciliatory steps.

   On March 26, North Korea put its artillery forces on their highest combat alert and repeated threats of attacks against South Korea and the U.S.

   "From this moment, the Supreme Command puts all of its field artillery, including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units, into the No. 1 combat ready posture," it said in a statement carried by the North's official news agency, the KCNA.

   They are targeting the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam, and other U.S. military bases in the Pacific as well as South Korea, the statement added.

   The White House denounced the North's latest threats as a "pattern" to escalate tensions.

   "We do look at this as part of a pattern, and we respond in the way that we always have," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

  
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North Korea Cuts Unilaterally Inter-Korean Military Hotline

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on March 27 that it has cut a military hotline with South Korea, the latest in a string of provocations that include the North's unilateral severance of an inter-Korean Red Cross hotline about two weeks ago.
"The Supreme Command of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) solemnly declared that... Due to the reckless acts of the enemies, the North-South military communications which were set up for dialogue and cooperation between the North and the South has already lost its significance," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report, citing hostility from the United States and South Korea.

   The report said that the North sent a message to the South at 11:20 a.m., quoting the head of the North Korean side's delegation to the North-South general-level military talks as saying, "I, upon authorization, inform the South side that the North-South military communications will be cut off and the members of the north side at the military communications liaison office in the zone under the control of the North and the South in the west coastal area will stop their activities from this moment."

   Earlier on March 11, the socialist North disconnected the inter-Korean Red Cross hotline that ran through the truce village of Panmunjom, while it stopped using the phone line with the United Nations Command six days earlier.

   The latest move is feared to affect the operation of the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, as the west coastal military hotline is used for guaranteeing the safety of South Korean personnel commuting to and from the Kaesong complex, according to analysts in Seoul.

   The military hotline has been used to notify the North of any planned movement of people and vehicles to the Kaesong complex located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

   The military links were initially established in 2003 to prevent accidental clashes between the two sides that could fray relations. A total of eight links, including a dedicated fax line and backup system, have been set up so far, with all being cut with the latest move by Pyongyang.

   Related to the report, South Korea's Ministry of Unification confirmed that the North is no longer answering calls made on the hotline.

   "The North must take immediate steps to reconsider its actions," a ministry official said. He stressed that the latest move does not in any way help the stable management of the Kaesong complex.

   The official, however, said that despite the North shutting off contact, movement of people and vehicle traffic took place without problems during the day. He pointed out that notification processes over the demilitarized zone have all been exchanged three days in advance.

   The ministry in charge of inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation said that when the North cut the military hotline in 2009, operations at Kaesong continued because Seoul used alternate channels to contact the communist country. The North had cut the line four years ago because of the Key Resolve drill.

   "At present emergency contact is being maintained with the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC) in the North, with the government doing everything it can to ensure the safe movement of people and materials," the official said. KIDMAC is staffed by both South and North Korean personnel.

   "The severing of contact can pose serious challenges if the two Koreas clash," said Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at University of North Korean Studies.
The latest development, meanwhile, comes after Pyongyang said earlier in March that it will nullify the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean War and no longer respect non-aggression pacts reached between the two Koreas in the past.

   The Kaesong complex is considered the crowning achievement of the 2000 inter-Korean summit meeting and remains the only official economic connection between the two sides.

   Seoul had halted all interaction with the North after its warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010 that left 46 sailors dead.

   Following the announcement to cut the military hotline, the North's Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) denounced President Park Geun-hye's decision to make South Korean defense minister Kim Kwan-jin to stay in office, calling him a "die-hard confrontation manic."

   After the nominee to replace Kim resigned, Park recently decided to allow the incumbent defense chief to stay in office to avoid a security vacuum at a time of escalating military tensions with the communist nation.

   Kim, known for his tough stance toward North Korea, reiterated his commitment to sternly deal with the impoverished, socialist nation, ordering the military to immediately destroy "the origin of attack, and its supporting and commanding forces" if the North provokes.

  (END)
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