April 20, 2009 08:44
In a statement targeting South Korea on Saturday, North Korea reiterated that Seoul's full participation in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative "is tantamount to a declaration of a war" and added ominously the South Korean capital "lies only 50 km from the military demarcation line." The message took the form of a statement from the North Korean Army's General Staff.
Yet on the afternoon of April 16, North Korea had sent a message suggesting an inter-Korean meeting at the border city of Kaesong on Tuesday, saying it would then notify the South of "an important matter" concerning the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex. It was its first suggestion for a meeting to the current, conservative South Korean government.
Experts speculate that North Korea will try to link the South's participation in the PSI, which aims to intercept vessels suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction and related technology and materials, with the fate of the Kaesong industrial park.
Prof. Lee Jo-won of Chung-Ang University speculates that North Korea will want to see South Korea's attitude about the PSI plan. He based the inference on the fact that the North simply mentioned a "matter related to the Kaesong industrial park" when without specifying a concrete reason for the meeting, in contrast to previous proposals for dialogue, and that it gave a five-day lead-time before the proposed date.
Another speculation is that the North wants to talk about a South Korean staffer with Hyundai Asan, who has been held incommunicado in the North since being arrested at the Kaesong complex on spying charges.
"The best-case scenario for us would be that the North wants to meet only to tell us about its plan to expel" the man, a Unification Ministry official said. But it seems improbable that the North would invite a government delegation to a meeting only to tell the South it will expel him.
Another government official expressed concern that the government could be in a dilemma if the North insists on temporarily closing the industrial park until after South Korean authorities apologize for their involvement in the prisoner's alleged illegal activities.
"It seems not only the detained Hyundai Asan staffer but the entire Kaesong industrial park has been held hostage by North Korea," Prof. Yun Duk-min of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Security said.
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