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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 257 (April 11, 2013)

Kaesong Impasse Unlikely to Be Resolved by Dialogue: Unification Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The impasse surrounding the North's ban to prohibit South Korean workers and cargo from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex is unlikely to be resolved through dialogue, South Korea's unification minister told lawmakers on April 8.

   Speaking at the Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee at the National Assembly, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said Seoul is willing to put aside its pride if talks could bear results, but added conditions do not seem right at present.

   He said dispatching a special envoy to North Korea at this juncture is not expected to bring about meaningful results.

   "There is no guarantee that an envoy can reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "Seoul does not think now is the time to send such a person over to the North," the official said adding talks should not be viewed as the only way to resolve this issue.

   He added that if the North opts to allow South Koreans and materials to reenter the North it will be no different than before the current situation developed.

   "Returning things to normal does not require negotiation," Ryoo stressed.

   The minister also said it is questionable whether Pyongyang would respond to the Seoul government's request for talks in a sincere manner in light of its recent moves to disrupt normal operations.

   He pointed out that the industrial complex, located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, had been a symbol of peace and coexistance for the past decade. The minister said Seoul's view has been the North should not be permitted to wreck this arrangement without good reason.

   The official said he did not understand why North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had taken steps to disrupt operations at Kaesong.

   Ryoo, moreover, stressed that the ongoing impasse should not be seen as a clash of will between Seoul and Pyongyang.

   The policymaker's statement comes at the same time that his spokesman told reporters that conditions are not right for holding inter-Korean dialogue. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said Seoul is aware of calls by the 123 South Korean companies with factories at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and by politicians for the government to engage in talks with the North.

   "The current conditions are not conducive to talks," he said. "The North is not showing the right attitude needed for discussions to take place."

   There have been growing calls by businessmen, politicians and civic groups for Seoul to take a more active role in engaging the North in talks to ease tensions that some claimed have reached the highest level in two decades. Main opposition Democratic United Party's interim leader Moon Hee-sang recently urged the government to send an envoy to the North to open a channel of dialogue. This view was shared by some lawmakers in the ruling Saenuri Party.

   Kim said that what is important at present is for Pyongyang to keep its promises made in the past, adhere to international accepted practices in regards to business arrangements and give up its weapons of mass destruction program.

   Ryoo, meanwhile, retracted comments about signs that Pyongyang may be preparing for another nuclear test.

   He said his earlier response to a question raised by Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun was reported without his intentions being reflected.

   The ministry also clarified its chief's remarks by saying he only touched on Seoul's long-held view that the North can detonate an underground atomic device at any time since related preparations have already been completed.

   The defense ministry said things remained "quiet" around the Punggye-ri test complex in North Hamgyong Province.

   The site was used for the country's three previous nuclear tests and the government said at least one tunnel that may have been prepared in advanced could be used if the North's leadership felt the need to move forward with another test. The communist country tested its first nuclear device in 2006 with the last and strongest detonation occurring on Feb. 12. This year's test triggered worldwide condemnation and resulted in the United Nations slapping fresh sanctions on the country.

   The North has responded to the sanctions by saying that a "state of war" exists on the Korean Peninsula and that it can launch preemptive nuclear attacks on South Korea and the United States.


Park Voices Disappointment with N. Korea's Suspension of Kaesong Complex

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 9 that North Korea's decision to suspend the operation of the jointly run factory complex in its border city of Kaesong is "very disappointing."

   Park made the remark during a Cabinet meeting, saying that no country in the world would be willing to invest in North Korea if the socialist nation flouts international regulations and promises.

   "It is very disappointing that North Korea abruptly said yesterday that it will temporarily suspend the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex that has been operating without any problems," Park said.

   "How long should we see this endless vicious cycle of (North Korea) creating crises before reaching compromise in exchange for aid and again creating crises before compromise and aid?" she said of Pyongyang's pattern of behavior.

   Unless operations of the complex are normalized, South Korea will have to use state funds earmarked for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation projects to compensate companies for damage arising from the suspension, Park said.

   Park's spokesman, Yoon Chang-jung, denied speculations by some local media that South Korea is bracing for all possibilities over the fate of the factory park, including its closure.

   "The government remains unchanged in its position that the Kaesong Industrial Complex should continue normal operations," Yoon said. "It is not true that the government has been drawing up measures with the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in mind."

   On April 9, operations of the complex grounded to a halt as North Korean workers failed to showed up for work, a day after the regime said it would withdraw all of its workers from the complex and temporarily suspend operations.

   "If North Korea breaches international regulations and promises like this, there will be no countries or companies that would make investments in North Korea," Park said. "North Korea should halt wrong behavior and make the right choice for the sake of the entire future of the Korean people."

   The complex has long been plagued by political and nuclear disputes.

   A new wave of tensions has hit the zone after North Korea churned out near-daily threats of war and harsh rhetoric in anger over joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States and new U.N. sanctions adopted for its third nuclear test in February.

   The project combines cheap North Korean labor with South Korean capital and technology.

   A total of 123 South Korean factories employ some 53,000 North Korean workers at the complex. Revenues from the zone were considered a key source of hard currency for the impoverished North.


South Korea Urges ASEAN to Play 'Active Role' in North Korea Threats

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to play an "active role" in helping defuse the acute tension on the Korean Peninsula, as North Korea is ready for a mid-range missile launch.
Yun made the remarks during a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Prince Mohamed Bolkiah of Brunei, which serves as the chair of the ASEAN, on late April 9, an official at Seoul's foreign ministry said.

   Military officials said North Korea could launch mobile ballistic missiles at any time. South Korean and U.S. troops upgraded their alert status on North Korea to the next level as tensions are escalating.

   During the telephone talks, Yun asked "Brunei, as the ASEAN chair, to play an active role in delivering a consistent message that North Korea will gain nothing from threats and provocations," the official said.

   South Korea "is dealing with the situation in a stable manner, while maintaining a strong deterrence against North Korea," Yun was quoted as telling Bolkiah.

   North Korea has unleashed a torrent of threats following U.N. sanctions that punished Pyongyang for conducting its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. Since then, the North has threatened to wage a nuclear strike against South Korea and the U.S., and temporarily suspended operations at the inter-Korean industrial park.