Gov't Officials at Loggerheads Over N.Korea Strategy

      January 28, 2011 13:14

      Senior government officials on Thursday hurried to contradict one of their number who earlier said an apology by North Korea for deadly provocations last year is "no precondition" for six-party nuclear talks. On the contrary, they stressed Seoul's position over the North's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island remains unchanged.

      Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Thursday told KTV, "Substantive six-party talks will resume only if the North takes responsible steps" over the provocations and shows it is sincere about denuclearization. Chun Young-woo, the senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, said an apology from the North cannot solve all inter-Korean problems. "The relationship can improve only if the North both dismantles its nuclear program and changes its attitude" over the attacks.

      The senior official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, had made the offending comment on Wednesday, immediately after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Foreign Ministry officials. The subsequent denials give rise to suspicion that ministries are at loggerheads over their strategy involving inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization.

      This is especially apparent between the ministries of unification and foreign affairs. The Unification Ministry wants to pressure the North to apologize and take practical steps toward denuclearization. That became clear when the ministry issued a statement urging inter-Korean talks on nuclear disarmament immediately after the Defense Ministry sent a message to the North proposing preliminary talks about the provocations.

      But the Foreign Ministry wants to deal with the two issues separately. Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told reporters Tuesday, "Denuclearization talks will be held within the framework of the six-party talks," implying that the provocations are a matter for inter-Korean dialogue.

      Officials in the two ministries are exchanging swipes. "To get an apology from the North over its provocations, we have to pressure the North with the twin weapons of economic aid and denuclearization," said a Unification Ministry official. "If we drop denuclearization issue, we will lose our leverage." But a Foreign Ministry official said, "The six-party talks on nuclear disarmament can proceed regardless of the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island issues. We can't force the nuclear disarmament issue into the framework of inter-Korean dialogue."

      A Cheong Wa Dae official admitted that views between the ministries "seem to diverge" but added this is because "the Unification Ministry focuses on inter-Korean relations while the Foreign Ministry focuses on the six-party talks."

      Meanwhile, senior presidential secretary Chun told a session of the National Unification Advisory Council Thursday, "So long as the North fails to denuclearize, we cannot concede to its demands if it simply apologizes." He warned there will be nothing the South can do "if the North brings about its own ruin by opting to take steps that lead to its collapse and is unable to bear the weight of its failures."

      "The goal of our North Korea policy until reunification is sustainable peace. Neither a peace that relies solely on the North's forbearance and Kim Jong-il's mercy nor a peace achieved through bribes is sustainable," Chun said. He added there can be no progress if the North continues to resist denuclearization or attempts to gloss over the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island issues. Nuclear weapons block the path to unification, hurt the North itself and threaten the South, he said.

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