(ATTN: ADDS comments from analysts, N. Korean statement on economic reconstruction; RECASTS lead, headline; RESTRUCTURES; TRIMS)
By Sam Kim
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea expressed hope Friday in a New Year's message for an end to enmity with the United States and reaffirmed its commitment to a Korean Peninsula cleared of nuclear arms through negotiations.
The statement carried in the joint newspaper editorial comes after a U.S. special envoy visited Pyongyang last month to press for the resumption of six-nation talks that focus on North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions.
The talks -- involving the U.S., the divided Koreas, China, Russia and Japan -- were declared dead last year by North Korea when it protested U.N. censure of its April long-range rocket launch.
In the editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea said it remains consistent in its efforts "to establish a lasting peace system on the Korean Peninsula and make it nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations."
"The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK and the USA," the editorial was quoted as saying in a separate three-paragraph piece that did not elaborate. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official title.
The North, which conducted its second atomic test in May last year, justifies its pursuit of nuclear arms by claiming the U.S. has yet to abandon its intention to invade the communist country.
The enmity traces back to the truce that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically continues, leaving China and North Korea in a state of conflict with the U.S. and South Korea.
"The editorial tells us the North will likely push for a forum grouping the four countries to produce a tangible declaration of some sort to terminate the truce" and forge a peace treaty, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Yang said the editorial indicates that the North has decided to embrace a process in which enmity with the U.S. is resolved at the same time as the six-nation nuclear negotiations take place.
The editorial, jointly issued by the North's ruling party, army and youth military, is scrutinized by observers as it is considered a blueprint for the isolated state's policy goals for the coming year.
Faced with economic plight that leaves many of its 23 million people impoverished, North Korea declared it will focus on raising its standard of living by revamping its light and agricultural industries.
The editorial was reportedly titled "Bring about a radical turn in the people's standard of living by accelerating the development of light industry and agriculture once again this year."
"North Korea has been faced with deepening economic trouble, and it needs stable foreign relations if it wishes to push for its goal of economic reconstruction," said Kim Keun-shik, a North Korea professor at Kyungnam University. "2010 is an important year for the North to pave the ground for its economic revival."
Under a slogan calling for efforts to become "a strong and prosperous nation" by 2012, the North last year launched a series of mass campaigns to increase its industrial production.
It also went ahead with the first currency revaluation in 17 years in an apparent attempt to root out market activities outside government control and reassert its control on trade and inflation.
"The light and agricultural industries are the focus here. That seems to be because the government needs to take care of people's basic necessities and food after the currency reform," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea professor at Korea University.
The moves came as North Korea reportedly tried to engineer a power succession from leader Kim Jong-il to his third son, Jong-eun. The senior Kim, a 68-year-old who relies on a massive cult of personality, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, triggering concerns his death may lead to a power struggle and a sudden regime collapse.
"The focus on the standard of living shows that the regime is trying to solicit legitimacy for its power succession from the people," said Jang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace Affairs.
The editorial also stressed the North's 1.2-million-strong army should hold "aloft the slogan 'Let us defend with our very lives the leadership of revolution headed by the great Comrade Kim Jong-il.'"
The editorial gave no hints as to the possibility of succession, while South Korean analysts and officials estimate the power handover may be completed as early as next year.
The South's Unification Ministry, calling the editorial a positive sign of reconciliation, struck an optimistic note that the North will seek improved crossborder ties this year.
Inter-Korean relations began to deteriorate after South Korean conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008. The navies of the countries also collided in a brief gunfight off the west coast of the peninsula in November last year.
"We see no denunciation of the South Korean government and believe the North has clearly signaled its willingness to improve ties," an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The call for a thaw with the outside world comes as an American Christian missionary remains detained in the North after walking across the border from China pressing world leaders to address human rights issues in the communist country.
In March last year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to the North to secure the release of two American journalists who crossed into the state from China and spent more than four months in jail.
North Korea has issued a joint newspaper editorial on New Year's day as its policy blueprint since 1995. Some analysts say the message has less authority than before. Until 1994, Kim Il-sung read the New Year message aloud on television and radio.
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