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(2nd LD) Park says to unveil 'Northeast Asia peace' initiative during visit to U.S.

All Headlines 20:43 April 24, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS byline)
By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, April 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday she will unveil her vision to promote peace in Northeast Asia during a visit to the United States next month, offering an invitation for North Korea to join the trust-building process.

The idea, which Park dubbed the "Seoul process," calls for the United States and Asian nations to enhance cooperation, first on non-political issues such as climate change, terrorism prevention and atomic power, before expanding the trust built in such cooperation to other areas.

The initiative appears to be an expanded, Asian version of Park's "Korean Peninsula trust proces" that calls for greater exchanges and cooperation between the two Koreas so as to build trust and reduce tensions across one of the world's most heavily fortified border.

"Asian countries have a high level of mutual economic interdependence, but they also a lot of contentious issues when it comes to security and territorial matters. We call this 'Asia paradox' and the reason I'm doing this (the initiative) is to overcome that," Park said during a meeting with dozens of managing editors of major newspapers and broadcasters, including Yonhap News Agency and its broadcasting arm, news Y.

"I believe North Korea can get into this initiative," she added.

Park is scheduled to visit the United States, her first overseas trip since taking office in February, for a summit with President Barack Obama on May 7. In Washington, she will also deliver a speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Park said she expects to have in-depth discussions with Obama about how to denuclearize North Korea and ways to further strengthen the alliance between Seoul and Washington. South Korean needs closer cooperation with Washington now than at any other times, she said.

Park also touched upon a broad range of other issues, including a history row with Japan.

Tensions flared anew between Seoul and Tokyo as Japanese Cabinet ministers and lawmakers made visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including Class A criminals. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added fuel to the dispute with a remark that Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea may not be determined as an act of aggression.

"Korea-Japan relations are very important in security, economy and all other aspects. But it would be difficult (for the two countries) to move in a future-oriented manner if (Japan) holds incorrect perceptions of history and makes past scars worse," she said.

Park also said that Japan should work "harmoniously with the international community." If Japan continues its move to the right, its relations with many countries in Asia will become difficult, which is indeed not desirable for Japan as well, she said.

Park also talked about recently concluded negotiations with the U.S. on rewriting an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. The two countries only agreed to extend the existing pact by two years after failing to find a compromise on Seoul's demand for the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

"It was because there was not enough time to make it the way we want and there were also differences in opinions," she said, commenting on the failure to rewrite the deal. Still, she said there was "meaningful progress" as both sides want to make a new deal in a way that strengthens their alliance.

On North Korea, Park said she wants an early resumption of the suspended inter-Korean industrial complex in the communist nation's border city of Kaesong but will deal with the issue strictly based on principles without blindly offering concessions to Pyongyang.

"On one hand, North Korea is trying to rebuild its economy by attracting investment. But I cannot understand how they are going to win trust from people around the world with unpredictable actions," she said, denouncing the North's abrupt suspension of the factory complex.

Early this month, North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers from the zone, forcing the 123 small-scale South Korean factories there to suspend their operations. Pyongyang also threatened to permanently shut down the complex, the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.

North Korea took the measure in anger over U.S.-involved military drills in the South.

Park has proposed dialogue with the North to resolve the issue, but Pyongyang rejected it.

Still, she said South Korea will continue to leave doors for dialogue open to North Korea while continuing humanitarian assistance to the destitute country.


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