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Ruling party leader sees little progress in resumption of inter-Korean talks

All Headlines 18:10 July 19, 2011

SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's efforts to break the deadlock in relations with North Korea are unlikely to see progress any time soon as Pyongyang is believed to have purged dozens of senior officials handling ties with Seoul, the chairman of the South's ruling Grand National Party (GNP) said Tuesday.

"President Lee Myung-bak has said in public that inter-Korean relations should be resolved in a future-oriented way, and I also basically believe that it is time to improve inter-Korean relations," Rep. Hong Joon-pyo said during a news conference with broadcasting journalists.

"But the North's internal situation appears to be very complicated. Among those who took the lead in inter-Korean relations, 30 were executed and 20 were killed under the disguise of car accidents. Dialogue partners have disappeared," he said.

His remarks came after a local newspaper reported last week that some 30 North Korean senior officials who had conciliatory stances toward the South have been allegedly killed by the communist regime. The South's Unification Ministry has said it cannot confirm the report.

It was unclear if Hong made the remark with any concrete evidence.

Inter-Korean relations have frayed badly since conservative President Lee took office in the South in early 2008 with a policy to link aid to progress in ending the North's nuclear ambitions. The countries' ties have deteriorated further since the North torpedoed a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean frontline island last year.

On the South's long-pending free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States, Hong vowed to pass the deal through parliament in next month's extraordinary session even if opposition parties are against it.

"The bill will be smoothly passed in August," Hong said. But he stopped short of saying whether he has the intention to ram through the bill if opposition parties resist the bill passage.

The FTA, first signed in 2007 and supplemented last December, has been awaiting approval from legislatures of both countries. The GNP's efforts to ratify the pact have repeatedly been dashed amid severe resistance by opposition parties calling for the government to renegotiate the deal that they said favors the U.S.

Hong also took a swipe at President Lee, saying he is "not good at politics."

"As a former CEO, President Lee has run the country as if running a company and distanced himself from Yeouido politicians, seeing them as cumbersome and unproductive," Hong said, accusing Lee of being self-righteous and unwilling to consult with the ruling party about major issues.

Yeouido refers to a Seoul district where the National Assembly complex is located.

"We have not had any president who goes to bed at midnight and wakes up at 4 a.m." except Lee, Hong said. "But the reason that (his hard work) is not recognized is because he is not good at politics."

Hong also criticized Lee for making a series of mistakes in personnel appointments by trying to place officials with ethical lapses in key posts, saying the mistakes have been a major drag on the popularity of his administration.

The presidential office shrugged off Hong's criticism.

"I don't have any comment on Chairman Hong's remarks," presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha said. "I understand that the remarks were made in the hope that the president will fare well and the presidential office will fare well."

But some officials expressed displeasure, saying Hong could have made such remarks directly to Lee instead of openly criticizing the president.


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