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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 267 (June 20, 2013)

S. Korea Regrets N. Korea's Buck-passing over Aborted Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea accused North Korea on June 13 of wrongly holding it responsible for the last-minute cancellation of high-level inter-Korean talks and urged the socialist country to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

   The two Koreas earlier had agreed to hold high-level government talks in Seoul this week, but the meeting was called off a day before it was due to be held after North Korea disputed the level of the chief South Korean negotiator.

   On June 13, North Korea foisted off the blame on South Korea, arguing that Seoul reneged on its pledge to appoint a Cabinet-level minister to lead its delegation but instead named a vice minister as its chief negotiator.

   South Korean officials said the North's argument distorted facts.

   "It is highly regrettable that the North side unilaterally disclosed the contents of the working-level talks and distorted facts," a Unification Ministry official said.

   The official, requesting anonymity, said it was North Korea who took issue with Seoul's selection of its chief delegate and backed away from the scheduled talks.

   "The attitude of the North caused the talks to fall through," the ministry said in a separate news statement.

   The high-level meeting, which would have been the first of its kind in six year, was to have discussed a variety of pending issues, including suspended cross-border economic exchanges and reunions of separated families in the two sides.

   The South originally had wanted Kim Yang-gon, the head of the United Front Department and Workers' Party of Korea secretary, to represent the North. But the North actually appointed an official whose rank is believed to be a step or two lower than that of a South Korean Cabinet minister.

   South Korea, reversing its original plan, later named a vice Cabinet minister to head its delegation, but the North took it as an affront to its offer of high-level talks.

   "The need to reach parity on who is the chief delegate aims to make it possible for substantive progress to be made in cross-border issues as well as laying the foundation for new relations between the two sides," the ministry said, adding that meaningful dialogue is based on mutual respect.

   The South's ministry also said that while the North cites past precedence for not sending a chief delegate that the South thinks is on par with its unification minister, there is a need to establish a new precedence that reflects common sense and global standards of protocol.

   A separate ministry official, discussing the issue with reporters, said South Korea has no plan to make new proposals to North Korea for now. He said Seoul will make sure that its delegates to future talks with North Korea will match their counterparts from the socialist country in rank.

   In a statement issued earlier through its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, North Korea argued that Seoul had no intention to hold a sincere dialogue with it from the outset.

   "It (South Korea) only sought to create an obstacle to the talks, delay and torpedo them after reluctantly taking part in the talks, far from solving issues at the negotiating table," an unidentified spokesman for the committee said in a (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report, monitored in Seoul.

   The spokesman said that the North has given up any hope of making peace from talks with South Korea, indicating that the socialist country would not seek a resumption of talks anytime soon.

   "The recent impolite and immoral provocative behavior of the puppet group made us think once again whether it will be possible either to properly discuss matters or improve the inter-Korean relations even if the talks between authorities are to take place in the future," the spokesperson said.

   North Korea affairs experts in Seoul suggested that the two Koreas may try to resolve the standoff by raising or lowering the level of talks.

   "In the case of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours, these can be handled through a working-level meeting," said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

   However, he said even this approach will require a cooling-off period.

   Highlighting the strained ties, the North did not answer again any phone calls by Seoul on Thursday. It strongly indicates that Pyongyang has again severed the phone line that it reopened last Friday after cutting it off in early March.


S. Korea Invites N. Korea to 2014 Incheon Asian Games

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has invited North Korea to attend next year's Asian Games to be held in the western port city of Incheon, a senior government official said on June 18.

   "We asked North Korea to participate in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games some two months ago via the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA)," Park Jong-gil, the second vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, told reporters.

   "We also conveyed our hope via other channels for inviting not only its athletes but supporters," he said. "The North has yet to make any response, but I expect to hear good news from Pyongyang soon."

   Inter-Korean relations remain soured after an agreement to hold their first high-level talks in six years unraveled on June 11 due to a dispute over the level of chief delegates that were to attend the meeting.

   Earlier June, Incheon Mayor Song Young-gil made an official request to OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah and Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, FIFA's vice president, for their cooperation in inviting the socialist North to the upcoming sporting event in his city, just west of Seoul.

   The 2014 Asian Games, the 17th of its kind, is scheduled to take place in Incheon for 16 days from Sept. 19, with 437 events in 36 sports.

   Incheon was awarded the right in 2007 defeating Delhi, India, to become the third city in South Korea to host the Asian Games after Seoul (1986) and Busan (2002).

   Pyongyang competed in the 2002 Busan Games, dispatching 184 athletes and more than 100 supporters. It marked the first time that the North took part in an international competition held in the South since the armistice that halted the Korean War (1950-53).

   North Korea did not apply to participate in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games to be held for eight days in Incheon from June 29, 2013, becoming one of three countries out of 45 OCA members choosing not to take part, along with East Timor and Afghanistan.

   "Undaunted, however, the Incheon municipal government will continue efforts to push for sports exchanges with the communist neighbor," its official said.


N. Korean Religious Leaders Call for Inter-Korean Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean religious leaders expressed disappointment over the cancellation of inter-Korean talks said they and hope a new round of negotiations can take place to ease regional tensions, a South Korean group said on June 18.

   The Seoul-based Korea Conference of Religion for Peace (KCRP) said its representatives met with counterparts from the North's Korean Council of Religionists (KCR) in Beijing on June 13 and exchanged views on how best they can contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

   Byun Jin-heung, the KCRP's secretary general, told Yonhap News Agency that despite the last minute cancellation of government-to-government talks that were scheduled to have taken place in Seoul last week, North Korean religious leaders seemed to want cross-border negotiations to move forward.

   "They were committed to the stance that talks must continue regardless of format," the official said. He said such views were echoed by the South Koreans at the meeting who represented various religions in the country.

   While the meeting, which would have been the first of its kind in six years, fell through because of disputes over the ranks of the chief negotiators, KCR leaders seemed to think that Pyongyang's choice did exercise authority to make decisions and that could have led to progress being made, he said.

   The North announced it would send Kang Ji-yong, a director at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea as chief delegate and insisted that Seoul send Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae to the talks.

   When the South tapped Vice Unification Minister Kim Nam-shik as its chief negotiator, Pyongyang called off the talks at the last minute.

   Byun, meanwhile, said that the North Korean religious leaders believe that talks between the two Koreas need to make headway as soon as possible, and hinted that such developments can lead to a summit meeting.

   "The North Koreans pointed out that the past two summits took place towards the end of South Korean president's term in office (which affected the success)," the official said. The leaders of the two Koreas met in 2000 and 2007, respectively.

   The KCRP said the Beijing meeting was arranged when religious leaders from the two sides met at the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace (ACRP) head in Indonesia earlier in the month. At the gathering the ACRP's executive committee called on the two Koreas to jointly host the religious group's 2014 general assembly.


Politicians, Religious Leaders Call for Seoul's Cooperation with Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of top South Korean politicians and religious leaders from both liberal and conservative sides called on the government on June 19 to closely cooperate with North Korea to bring forth unification and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

   "Through exchange and cooperation, South and North Korea should build up trust and work toward unification. And this (principle) should be the foundation of inter-Korean relations," they said in a joint statement, suggesting fundamental principles for the government's pursuit of policies toward the North.

   The six-point declaration, issued by 66 current and former politicians and religious leaders across the political spectrum, is designed to help reduce dramatic policy changes toward the North that usually come with government changes, the leaders said.

   The declaration also suggested Seoul should also begin the process of signing a peace treaty with North Korea to prevent another war and as a way to secure peaceful relations with the socialist country. South and North Korea technically remain at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

   Efforts to improve human rights conditions in the North, humanitarian food and medicine assistance as well as private-level economic cooperation projects should be continued regardless of the political orientation of different administrations, the declaration also noted. Two countries should also retain their joint events to reunite South and North Korean families separated by the Korean War, it added.

   The leaders also called on Pyongyang to stop nuclear arms development and other nuclear activities and abide by previous peace-promoting agreements between the two countries.

   "(Seoul) can secure commitment from the North and support from neighboring countries only when it shows consistency in policy toward the North regardless of government changes," according to the declaration. "Without national consensus, any North Korean policy may fail to succeed over the long term."

   The declaration comes as Seoul's new Park Geun-hye administration is expected to reshape the frosty inter-Korean relations under the previous government of President Lee Myung-bak. Taking a step back from Lee's hard-line policy, Park, under her signature "trust-building" policy, has promised flexibility in fence-mending with the North.

   Lee's five-year term brought to a halt Seoul's various joint projects and exchange programs forged under the previous two liberal administrations.

   Two incumbent vice chairmen of the National Assembly -- Lee Byung-suk from the ruling Saenuri Party and Park Byeong-seug from the main opposition Democratic Party -- joined signing the declaration, along with sitting and former lawmakers from different political parties as well as Christian, Catholic and Buddhist leaders.

   Rep. Ahn Hong-joon from the Saenuri Party who chairs the parliamentary committee for diplomatic and inter-Korean affairs said he will make utmost efforts to adopt the declaration in the National Assembly.