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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 17 (August 21, 2008)

All Headlines 10:41 August 21, 2008


President Lee Proposes Pyongyang Come Forward for Dialogue, Economic Exchanges

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid the prolonged chill in inter-Korean relations, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Aug. 15 proposed that North Korea come forward to resume full-fledged dialogue and economic cooperation with South Korea.

Lee urged Pyongyang to immediately abandon its nuclear weapons and embrace inter-Korean dialogue and economic cooperation to create a unified economic zone on the Korean Peninsula. He made the proposal in a speech celebrating Liberation Day and South Korea's national founding anniversary.

The president said his government will vigorously push to link the trans-Korean railroad with Russian and Chinese transcontinental railways in preparation for the emergence of a unified Korea as the world's logistics hub linking Eurasia and the Pacific Rim in the next 60 years.

"A unified Korea promises to be the main gateway for prosperity linking the Eurasian continent to the Pacific Ocean by land, air and sea. A train leaving Busan with cargo will be able to travel the trans-continental railway all the way to Central Asia and Western Europe ... A unified Korea will leap toward the center of the global community," Lee said in the address.

"I want to share this dream with all the 80 million Koreans. I am not going to give up the dream of both Koreas living well together. Permanent peace must be brought about. The nuclear weapons program, which is the source of distrust and conflict, has to be eliminated completely," the president said, proposing the resumption of across-the-board dialogue with North Korea.

South Korea has long pushed to connect the trans-Korean railroad with Russia's trans-Siberian railway, trans-Chinese railway and other transcontinental railways, seeking to serve as a key transportation link between Europe and the Pacific Rim.

Aug. 15 marked the 63rd anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, as well as the 60th founding anniversary of South Korea, formally called the Republic of Korea. The government of South Korea was founded on Aug. 15, 1948, exactly three years after Korea's liberation. The nation's first parliament was convened, its constitution promulgated, and its armed forces were also created in the same year.

Dialogue between the two Koreas has been suspended since the inauguration of the conservative Lee administration in February. Inter-Korean tensions worsened following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at the Mt. Kumgang resort on July 11.

As of Aug. 20, North Korea has not given an official response to the South's proposal, but one of its official newspapers criticized President Lee, saying his words and actions are different in view of the ongoing joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises that started three days after the speech.

North Korea has continuously demanded that the South to adhere to the joint summit agreements reached with Lee's predecessors, Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung.

Some experts say that while short on detail, President Lee's proposals in the address indicate a shift to more pragmatic policy toward Pyongyang rather than ongoing dispute on major issues. Other North Korea experts, however, say that the president's most recent proposals offered more details into his so-called "denuclearization, opening and 3,000 dollars" campaign pledge, aimed at raising North Korea's per capita income to US$3,000 within 10 years after its denuclearization. The vision categorizes the North's denuclearization into three steps, with corresponding economic assistance after each stage is completed.

Still, the feasibility of the North Korea roadmap remains uncertain as North Korea strongly denounces the "Vision 3,000" plan as a declaration against unification, and even a declaration of war. The North has so far refused government dialogue with the South's new conservative administration.

Based on a North Korean policy guidebook published by the Unification Ministry recently, Seoul divides North Korea's denuclearization into three stages. Stage one is North Korea's completion of its nuclear facilities disablement; stage two is North Korea's commencement of its nuclear dismantlement; and stage three is the North's completion of nuclear dismantlement.

In return for the first phase, the government said it would begin discussions on creating an economic community with the North and prepare a legal structure for such cooperation. Once North Korea finishes its nuclear disablement and its nuclear activities are verified, the government said it would begin the process of starting the project of "denuclearization, opening and 3,000 dollars."

The project would be handled by a high-level meeting of the two Koreas. As part of the project, the government would prepare a legal framework to stimulate economic cooperation, assist in trade and investment and liberalize inter-Korean trade.

If the dismantlement process of North Korea's nuclear materials begins and continues smoothly, the government will enter the second phase of a five-point development plan. The five points are economy, education, finance, infrastructure and quality of life, the ministry explained. Aid to improve those five fields will accelerate in the third phase, along with the creation of an international cooperation fund worth approximately $40 billion.

Lee assured the North that once it abandons its nuclear weapons program, which he has called "the source of distrust and conflict," both Seoul and Washington will help Pyongyang through international financial organization. "When the North joins in the flow of the global community, and consequently the two Koreas become one, the Korean people can step onto the center stage of the Eurasia-Pacific Age," Lee said.

Highlighting the geographic advantage of the Korean Peninsula, Lee explained that an elimination of the divide between the two Koreas would make it "the main gateway for prosperity linking the Eurasian continent to the Pacific Ocean by land, air and sea."

On Aug. 19, North Korea's Cabinet newspaper said that the annual joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, Ulji Freedom Guardian, are preparations for a war of aggression against the DPRK (North Korea).

The Minju Joson, the organ of the Cabinet, said, "The army and people of the DPRK are keeping themselves fully ready to deal deadly blows at the aggressors keen to attack the DPRK by force of arms. The U.S. would be well advised to roll back its anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK and prove this by immediately halting the above-said saber-rattling."

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