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(LEAD) Park proposes Northeast Asia peace initiative in congressional speech

All Headlines 00:59 May 09, 2013

(ATTN: ADDS paras 23-24, 29, photo)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, May 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye highlighted her vision to make Northeast Asia a more peaceful and harmonious region unbound by history and territorial tensions as she addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Speaking in English, Park also expressed gratitude to the U.S. for helping repel North Korea's invasion during the 1950-53 Korean War and transforming the Asian ally into a global economic power. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the alliance between the two countries.

The address came a day after Park held her first summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, during which they demonstrated they are firmly united against North Korean threats and provocations and urged Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs and join the international community.

"President Obama and I adopted a Joint Declaration (on the alliance). Building on the extraordinary accomplishments of the last 60 years, we determined to embark on another shared journey toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, toward cooperation in Northeast Asia, and finally toward prosperity around the world," Park said.

The most notable among the three peace visions was that concerning Northeast Asia.

Park said she is putting forward the initiative as the economies in the region are gaining ever greater clout and becoming more and more interlinked, but differences stemming from history are widening. How to manage the so-called "Asia paradox" will "determine the shape of a new order in Asia," she said.

"We cannot afford to put off a multilateral dialogue process in Northeast Asia," she said.

Together, the United States and other Northeast Asian partners could start with softer, non-political issues, such as environmental issues, disaster relief, nuclear safety and counter-terrorism, so as to foster trust among partners of the process, Park said.

"And that trust will propel us to expand the horizons of our cooperation," she said.

North Korea is welcome to take part in the process, Park said.

The initiative will serve the cause of peace and development in the region, but it will be firmly rooted in the South Korea-U.S. alliance, Park said, adding that the vision could reinforce President Obama's strategy of rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region.

In an apparent swipe at Japan, Park said "those who are blind to the past cannot see the future."

"This is obviously a problem for the here and now," she said. "But the larger issue is about tomorrow. For where there is failure to acknowledge honestly what happened yesterday, there can be no tomorrow."

The "Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative" or "Seoul process" is seen as a broader version of Park's "Korean Peninsula trust process," her trademark policy on Pyongyang that calls for bolstering dialogue and exchanges to foster trust and reduce tensions across their heavily armed border.

Before 535 senators and representatives and Vice President Joe Biden, Park said the approach is based on principles that South Korea "will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and that Pyongyang's provocations will be met decisively." But delinking humanitarian aid to the North is also a key element of the vision, she said.

The vision can make progress only when North Korea changes its attitude, she insisted.

"Trust is not something that can be imposed on another," she added.

Park said the international community has seen North Korea provoke a crisis before returning to negotiations to get concessions and rewards many times before, while the communist nation "uses that time to advance its nuclear capabilities."

"It is time to put an end to this vicious cycle," she said. "Pyongyang is pursuing two goals at once, a nuclear arsenal and economic development. We know these are incompatible. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too."

She urged the North to realize that security comes not from nuclear weapons.

"North Korea must make the right choice. It must walk the path to becoming a responsible member in the community of nations," Park said. "In order to induce North Korea to make that choice, the international community must speak with one voice. Its message must be clear and consistent."

Park said she wants to work toward creating an international park inside the Demilitarized Zone, a four-kilometer-wide buffer separating the two Koreas, one of the world's most heavily fortified borders.

"The demilitarized zone must live up to its name, a zone that strengthens the peace, not undermines it," she said. "It would be a zone of peace bringing together not just Koreans separated by a military line, but also the citizens of the world."

Park also used Wednesday's speech to express gratitude to the United States for helping make South Korea what it is today from the ashes of the Korean War.

"Along our journey we have been aided by great friends, and among them the United States is second to none. America, I thank you for your friendship," she said. "If the past is anything to go by, our new journey will also be filled with excitement."

She also called for congressional cooperation on pending bilateral issues, such as South Korea's wish to get the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel under a bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.

Park was the sixth South Korean president to speak at a joint session of Congress.

The address was interrupted 39 times by applause and standing ovations. One of the biggest ovations came when Park said, "No North Korean provocations can succeed."

Wednesday's address comes only a year and a half after her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, also addressed a joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives during a state visit in October 2011. Park took office in February as South Korea's first female president.

Officials said it was the first time since 1945 that leaders of the same country addressed a joint U.S. congressional session back to back.


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