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Lee says N. Korea cannot defy pro-democracy uprising

All Headlines 15:12 May 10, 2011

By Chang Jae-soon

BERLIN, May 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday that North Korea is no exception to the kind of pro-democracy uprising that has swept through the Middle East, though a similar movement in the closed nation is unlikely for the time being.

Lee made the remark in an interview with the German daily FAZ published Tuesday, referring to the "Jasmine" wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East that led to the fall of a series of autocratic leaders, including former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"Such a movement as the Jasmine Revolution cannot be defied," Lee said in response to a question whether a democracy uprising would be possible in the communist nation. "However, as North Korean society is so closed and lacks information, the Middle Eastern revolution will not have any direct impact, at least for the time being."

The Jasmine Revolution has spawned speculation over whether a similar revolution could take place in North Korea, though analysts have said such chances are slim because the toppled Middle Eastern regimes allowed far more political freedom and aspects of civil society were different than the North.

Lee also renewed his call for North Korea to apologize for last year's two deadly attacks, stressing that Pyongyang's dialogue overtures cannot be taken as sincere unless the regime first apologizes for the provocations.

"North Korea always repeats the behavioral pattern of making provocations and then signaling a willingness for dialogue," Lee said. "We are demanding an apology from North Korea for the provocations it perpetrated. Through this, we will be watching whether North Korea is sincere" about its dialogue overtures.

Lee also said that the South will make sure it will respond sternly to any North Korean provocations.

North Korea was a main theme for Lee's visit to Berlin, the symbolic city of German unification.

After summit talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday, Lee offered to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to next year's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul if Pyongyang makes a firm commitment to give up its nuclear programs and apologize for last year's attacks.

The proposal, if realized and followed through by Pyongyang, could theoretically lead to the North's reclusive leader attending an international summit with foreign leaders for the first time ever, as well as to a rare summit between leaders of the two Koreas.

About 50 global leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, will attend the second international summit in late March to discuss steps to make the world safer without the threat of atomic weapons. The U.S. hosted the inaugural summit last year.

But chances of the North's reclusive leader attending the meeting appear low, and Lee's offer was seen as more aimed at pressuring the North to make a strategic choice to give up its nuclear ambitions and break the deadlock in inter-Korean relations.

On Sunday, Lee also said that the South should seek unification with North Korea at any cost, saying it would be a great boon to Koreans. He also urged Pyongyang to end its nuclear programs that he said were an obstacle in realizing unification.

On Tuesday morning, Lee was to hold a meeting with a group of former and incumbent German officials, who were deeply involved in the 1990 unification, in an effort to seek their views on how best to prepare for unification with North Korea.

South Korean officials say they have a lot to learn from Germany's experience, especially its handling of the unified economy. Last year, Lee had proposed introducing a special tax to finance the massive cost for potential unification with the impoverished North, but the idea fizzled out amid the opposition parties' objections.

Later Tuesday, Lee was to fly to the German financial center of Frankfurt for a roundtable meeting with CEOs of major German firms and a meeting with South Korean residents there.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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