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All Headlines 10:40 July 17, 2008

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

President Lee Proposes Full Resumption of Inter-Korean Dialogue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid strained inter-Korean relations, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on July 11 proposed that the Koreas immediately resume dialogue across the board on the denuclearization of North Korea, implementation of the existing inter-Korean summit agreements and cross-border humanitarian cooperation.

In an address at the opening session of the new parliament, Lee said, "I hereby make the following proposals to North Korea. Full dialogue between the two Koreas must resume." Speaking to the 299 lawmakers, he said, "The highest priority of my administration's North Korea policy is to ensure the denuclearization of North Korea and in tandem, we will seek mutual benefit and co-prosperity of the two Koreas."

Lee stressed that his government is willing to engage in serious consultations with North Korea on how to implement the inter-Korean agreements made so far, including the joint declaration of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula of 1991, the South-North Joint Declaration of June 15, 2000, and the Oct. 4, 2007 summit declaration between the leaders of the two Koreas.

Lee's liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il held the second inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang last October. They signed a 10-point joint declaration calling for a permanent peace regime on the peninsula, the end of military hostility and significant expansion of inter-Korean cooperation in politics, economy and denuclearization.

Following the conservative Lee's election as president last December, however, inter-Korean relations have chilled, with the North repeatedly urging the new South Korean president to abide by the existing summit agreements.

Lee also expressed his wish to engage in inter-Korean humanitarian cooperation. "From a humanitarian and fraternal standpoint, the South Korean government is ready to cooperate in efforts to help relieve the food shortage in the North, as well as alleviate the pain of the North Korean people. The issues involving South Korean POWs, separated families and South Korean abductees should be resolved as well," he said. "Inter-Korean relations should transcend changes in administrations, and should be pursued from a future-oriented perspective for all the Korean people."

North Korea spurned the president's proposals. On July 13, North Korea dismissed President Lee's proposal for the full resumption of inter-Korean dialogue, calling the offer "rhetorical fraud," according to a North Korean Internet site monitored in Seoul.

The Web site "Uriminjokkiri" (By Our Nation Itself), reported that the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the North's Workers' Party, criticized Lee's address made at the National Assembly, claiming, "There is nothing new" and that it is "not worth mentioning, as (Lee) only repeated what his subordinates have been saying."

"What we cannot overlook is that without clearly stating his position on the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration, Lee is attempting to evade (the recent agreements) by mingling all the past agreements together," said the Rodong Sinmun. "It is a petty attempt to dilute the meaning of the agreements and to dodge the execution."

The agreements were made at the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summits under then President Kim Dae-jung, who established the engagement policy with the North, and then President Roh Moo-hyun, respectively.

"(Lee) said something like the South is 'willing to engage in serious consultations' on how to implement the inter-Korean agreements made so far, but why do we need any further consultation when we have already agreed on all the execution processes?" the Rodong Sinmun asked. "Lee Myung-bak must stop playing with words and make clear his stance on the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration in front of all our people."

The newspaper also criticized Lee for saying in the speech that the North's denuclearization should come first. "It shows not only that he did not give up the criminal 'Denuclearization, Openness, 3000' campaign, but also that he is even pursuing it more viciously," it said. The policy aimed at raising the impoverished communist neighbor's per capita income to US$3,000 within a decade in exchange for the North's abandonment of its nuclear program was proposed by Lee during his presidential campaign.

North Korea denounced the policy after Lee took office earlier this year, claiming it is aimed at "sacrificing the interests of the Korean nation for the benefit of outside forces," "pursuing confrontation and war," and "damaging inter-Korean relations."

President Lee came under fire in the South for expressing the reconciliatory position just hours after a South Korean female tourist visiting the North's Mt. Kumgang resort was shot to death by a North Korean soldier. While expressing regret over the incident, North Korea said on July 12, "The responsibility for the incident rests entirely with the south side."

South Korea's conservative ruling party on July 14 suggested holding reconciliation talks with North Korean politicians in a move related to President Lee's effort to thaw frozen inter-Korean ties.

The shooting of the tourist has jeopardized all inter-Korean cooperation projects, further chilling relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

"The tragic case shows how important it is for the two Koreas to make peace," said Grand National Party floor leader Hong Joon-pyo during a parliamentary speech. "As it remains difficult to resume inter-Korean talks on a governmental basis, I suggest opening a dialogue channel between the legislators of the two countries to openly discuss issues related to peacemaking on the Korean Peninsula."

Hong pressed Pyongyang to cooperate in Seoul's planned investigation into the incident. "North Korea must bear in mind that inter-Korean ties can only be mended via its active cooperation in the investigations," he said.

Seoul's liberal major opposition party also pressed for Pyongyang's cooperation in the investigations and a pledge not to repeat the incident. "I believe North Korea overreacted," said Democratic Party leader Chung Sye-kyun during a radio interview on July 14. "But efforts must be made by both governments to prevent further chilling of the inter-Korean relationship."

Observers warn that the recent incident may not only hinder Seoul's recent effort to put inter-Korean talks back on track, but also, in the worst-case scenario, put the two Koreas back into a mode of Cold War-era confrontation.

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