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(2nd LD) Incoming gov't to reconsider some inter-Korean economic projects

All Headlines 17:52 January 07, 2008

(ATTN: UPDATES with quote by Lee's spokesman, more details; CHANGES lead, headline)

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- The incoming government of President-elect Lee Myung-bak will reconsider some large inter-Korean cooperation projects agreed upon during the second-ever inter-Korean summit last year, Lee's transition team said Monday.

The transition team asked the Unification Ministry to slow down on major inter-Korean economic projects to match the pace of the six-way nuclear disarmament talks, but vowed not to link humanitarian projects, including rice and fertilizer aid, to the nuclear talks.

"We decided to conduct on-site surveys before reviewing some projects that require an ... enormous budget over a long period," Lee Dong-gwan, spokesman for the team, told reporters after his team received a policy briefing from the ministry.

Projects under review will be the construction of a shipyard complex and its infrastructure in North Korea, along with the establishment of a "peace zone" along the disputed inter-Korean border in the West Sea, the site of deadly naval clashes between the two Koreas in 1999 and 2002.

During the landmark summit, President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to establish the "peace zone" along the border to prevent further clashes and begin second-stage construction of the Kaesong industrial complex as early as possible. South Korea also agreed to help repair North Korea's railways and roads.

"Humanitarian projects, such as the reunion of family members living separately in the two Koreas, and rice and fertilizer aid can be continuously pushed for, but economic cooperation projects should be carried out in parallel with the pace of North Korea nuclear talks," a key member of the team was quoted as saying at the briefing.

The president-elect, who is to take office in February, has vowed to take a tougher stance on North Korea while seeking to strengthen Seoul's alliance with Washington.

The six-nation denuclearization process remains bogged down following North Korea's failure to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for disabling its nuclear facilities and giving a full account of its nuclear weapons programs.

In its first comment on the missed deadline, the North said on Friday it almost completed the disabling and gave a full account to the United States in November. Washington denied the claim, however.

The spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang was forced to slow its disablement because the U.S. and other parties to the agreement failed to live up to their promises to provide energy aid and political concessions. The other parties are China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

During the briefing, the South Korean Unification Ministry proposed that plans for on-site surveys and various working-level meetings for already agreed upon economic projects be held as scheduled this year, ministry officials said.

The ministry also claimed it should not be downsized or merged with the Foreign Ministry, citing the peculiarity of inter-Korean affairs, the officials said.

Lee's spokesman said on Sunday that the president-elect seeks to reduce the number of central government offices to between 15 or 12 from the current 18. The Unification Ministry is known to be one of the ministries facing reorganization.


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