SEOUL, May 8 (Yonhap) -- The first South Korea-U.S. summit under the Park Geun-hye administration is unlikely to nudge Pyongyang to change its policies, local analysts said Wednesday, raising the possibility that the communist country will remain belligerent toward the outside world.
In the meeting held in Washington, Park and U.S. President Barack Obama stressed that a channel for dialogue with North Korea remains open, but made clear that the two countries will respond firmly to future provocations.
Making her first overseas trip since taking office in late February, the South Korean leader said that if the North opts to become a responsible member of the international community, Seoul, along with other countries, will gladly offer support.
Obama said that the practice of Pyongyang ratcheting up tensions to win concession is long past. The U.S. president emphasized that the North must now declare its intent to keep its promises and obligations by taking meaningful steps for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea watchers said the two leaders did not outline any new plans for change to take place on the peninsula and stuck to their long-standing demands that the North must make the first move and meet all of its past promises to scrap its weapons of mass destruction.
They said Park's stance to force the North to change could actually cause the reclusive country to escalate cross-border tensions.
"In effect, they placed the ball back in North Korea's court by concurring to follow the present course of action anchored on sanctions and the pressuring of the North to alter its attitude," an expert said.
The watchers pointed out that there was no mention of a peace treaty to replace the cease fire Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War (1950-53) or the establishment of a peace regime that Pyongyang has been seeking. Pyongyang has persistently called for a peace treaty as a means to open talks with the United States.
Reflecting the overall assessment, Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said the summit meeting adhered to strict principles and makes it difficult for Pyongyang to respond in a conciliatory manner.
"The leaders in unison called on the North to take the first step and warned they will not tolerate provocations," the researcher said.
Other Pyongyang watchers said that under such circumstances, the North, which in recent weeks toned down its saber rattling tactics, may reverse course and try to fuel confrontation with Seoul and Washington as it did up until mid April.
The North unilaterally nullified the ceasefire agreement, broke all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, tested its third nuclear device and threatened nuclear strikes against the United States.
"Judging by past behaviors, the North can still launch a surprise attack against the South as it did in 2010," a researcher at a state-run think tank said. He speculated that the North may speed up plans to restart the 5-megawatt graphite moderated reactor in Yongbyon that had been mothballed following the agreement reached in 2007 at the six-party talks and move to complete construction of an experimental light water reactor. Both facilities can generate fissile materials that can be used to make nuclear devices.
Just before the summit, North Korea's Southwestern Front Command claimed it ordered troops to strike the South in the event a single shell fell in its territorial waters during the ongoing joint anti-submarine exercise in the Yellow Sea between South Korean and U.S. naval forces. The military warned that it will turn the five islands controlled by Seoul along the maritime demarcation line with the north into a "sea of fire" if it was provoked.
On the other hand, Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea may be tired from the spike in tension, and South Korea, Washington and even Beijing are unlikely to bend at present. There is a chance it may call for talks to escape its isolation, Yang said.
Seoul's defense ministry said the day before that the North lifted its highest readiness posture placed on its long-range artillery and rocket forces, and recalled two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles that may have been sent to the east cost for launch. The missiles have been estimated to have a range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers that could reach the U.S. territory of Guam.
Analysts, meanwhile, said that there is a need to carefully watch what actions will be taken by the North to mark the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire pact that ended the Korean conflict. The date, which is a holiday in the North, falls on July 27 and because the North leaders and the government regularly issue statements, outsiders can gauge where the country will go down the road. They added depending on various developments, the North could even decide to close down the Kaesong Industrial Complex that has been temporarily suspended since Pyongyang pull all of its 53,000 laborers that worked for the 123 South Korean companies from the park in early April.
There has been speculation that the North may use Kaesong to engage the U.S. in dialogue, but with Washington drawing the line on making compromises, there may be little the North can do to utilize the inter-Korean complex as a bargaining tool.
A government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, added that the North, having determined how Seoul and Washington will proceed after the summit, will probably have to think long and hard on what course of action to take.