Gov't Send Mixed Messages About N.Korea Policy

      December 30, 2010 11:57

      The government seems to be sending out mixed messages regarding a perceived shift in its North Korea policy from engagement to preparations for reunification by hinting at the resumption of six-party talks.

      President Lee Myung-bak in a policy meeting on Wednesday said the government should help people understand that "reunification is not far off and has many positive aspects for them."

      In a briefing to the president, the Unification Ministry set three policy goals for 2011 -- persuading the North to change, seeking "proper" inter-Korean relations, and preparing for reunification.

      "To help the North seek desirable change, we need to find a new approach to targeting the North Korea people," a ministry spokesman said. "We should lay firm foundations for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula in the long term."

      The expression "preparations for reunification" has long been interpreted by both Koreas as meaning absorption of one Korea by the other.

      But apparently mindful of the risk of escalating tensions with that choice of words, the ministry also talked about "opening doors for dialogue" and added, "We are not seeking reunification by absorption."

      But the Foreign Ministry announced a plan to work for the resumption of inter-Korean talks. It said it will "seek resumption of the six-party talks" on the North's nuclear program, stressing cooperation among five participating countries other than the North, while naming "building an international consensus about peaceful reunification" as one of its policy goals for next year as well. 

      Lee also said, "The North's nuclear program must be dismantled through the six-party talks. Seoul should play a major role in helping the North dismantle its nuclear program through inter-Korean dialogue."

      Yet when he met Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo after the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last month, Lee said, "This is not the time to discuss resumption of the six-party talks."

      Presidential spokeswomen Kim Hee-jung claimed there was "no change in our basic position" that the North must demonstrate it is really willing to dismantle its nuclear program before the talks resume.

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