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(News Focus) S. Korea-U.S. summit to push N. Korea to review policy options
By Lee Joon-seung
SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) -- The South Korea-U.S. summit that has confirmed the two countries' goal of nuclear non-proliferation on the Korean Peninsula is expected to push Pyongyang to examine its policy options in the face of unfavorable international developments, analysts here said Thursday.

   After their first summit meeting in Washington on Tuesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama announced that they will deal sternly with future North Korean provocations and made clear that the communist country must give up its nuclear arsenal and comply with non-proliferation promises made in the past.

   The announcement reflects long-standing principles of the two governments and effectively compels Pyongyang to make the next move that will have far-reaching implications. Seoul and Washington said they will not make concessions simply because the North ups the ante and makes threats.

   In the past few months, the North unilaterally nullified the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean War (1950-53), warned it will not honor non-aggression pacts with South Korea reached in the past and threatened to launch nuclear strikes against both Seoul and Washington.

   "The North is probably making strategic calculations in the wake of the summit meeting and trying to plot their future course of action," a government official at the Ministry of Unification said.


The official, who requested anonymity, said the North can choose to maintain the current state of tension, seek to lessen the pressure exerted by the international community by making tactical alterations to its actions, or opt for a shift in its fundamental policies. He pointed out that one clear sign the North is thinking long and hard on the matter is the fact that the country has remained strangely quiet about the Park-Obama meeting and the speech given by the South Korean chief executive at the joint session of Congress.

   Local North Korea analysts said there is a chance that the North can try to ratchet up tensions once more after taking steps to tone down its rhetoric in May. This is likely because South Korea and the U.S. offered no conciliatory gestures and are maintaining their hard-line positions.

   Analysts said that having failed to get the kind of concessions offered by its neighbors for curtailing its threats, the country may have no other choice but to fuel tensions once again.

   "The North already warned it will turn five South Korean-controlled islands in the Yellow Sea near the demarcation line into a "sea of fire" and announced to restart a mothballed 5 megawatt nuclear reactor in Yongbyon that can be used to make weapons-grade plutonium," an official source speculated.

   He added that Pyongyang could further ramp up tensions by moving for the early completion of an experimental light water reactor and even showcase its uranium enrichment process to antagonize the United States and force it to seek talks.

   Moreover, it could take steps to confiscate South Korean assets left behind at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and even bring military back into the zone, which could spell the end of the joint venture zone.

   All operations at the border town that first started churning out products in 2004 came to a halt on April 9 when Pyongyang ordered its 35,000 laborers not to report to work. Seoul responded by pulling its own citizens out with the last seven returning home last Friday.

   On the possibility of making tactical changes to its policies, experts such as Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies, expect Pyongyang to make conciliatory gestures.

   "They probably don't see the summit as the kind of event to compel them to really change and halt their saber rattling, yet they may be willing to make gestures that can be seen as trying to ease tensions," the scholar said.

   He said Pyongyang may allow the 123 South Korean companies that had to halt operations at Kaesong to visit the North to hold talks which could lead to the retrieval of finished goods and production materials they left behind when they had to pull out.

   The scholar said this is an option that the North can take since Seoul and Pyongyang had all called for the normalization of operations.

   Of the three options, this may be the most likely action taken, since it can buy time and prevent the current situation from deteriorating further.

   Lastly, the North may determine that it is to their advantage to end the impasse and lower military tension, and even accept offers of dialogue to handle all outstanding issues.

   The North recently lifted its order that kept its rocket and long-range artillery forces at their highest state of war readiness and recalled the deployment of two of its Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles from the east coast. The missile may have a maximum range of about 4,000 kilometers that could send a payload to Guam. Washington had warned that such a move would be a grave mistake.


In addition, moves by China may nudge the country to accept talks.

   Beijing said it would close transactions between the Bank of China (BOC) and the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (FTB). Such a move can be seen as an economic and psychological blow to the North and its leaders, who had viewed China as it key ally and supporter and source of business.

   Besides the BOC-FTB ban, Beijing had agreed to the fresh United Nations sanctions passed in early March, which were imposed for the North conducting its third nuclear test a month earlier.

   Experts, however, said with Seoul and Washington insistent on the North giving up its nuclear weapons program, there really in no leeway for a full-fledged change in Pyongyang's policies at this juncture.

   "To take such a step could be seen as 'caving into to pressure,' which is not an option that the North will readily agree to," an observer said.

   The North has persistently stated that it will never give up its nuclear arsenal and said any talks on the matter must include global non-proliferation involving all nuclear powers.