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(6th LD) Park calls for bipartisan cooperation against N.K. threats

All News 19:13 September 12, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks, info in paras 13, 20-21, 24-45)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday called for bipartisan cooperation in coping with the "tangible and urgent" nuclear threat from North Korea, pointing to the risks of a potential war on the Korean Peninsula.

During a meeting with political leaders, the commander-in-chief also stressed the need to strengthen "all military capabilities, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella," noting that South Korea now faces a "very grave" security situation that is different from the past.

Park's remarks followed Pyongyang's fifth and most powerful nuclear test on Friday.

"We should bear in mind that North Korea's nukes and missiles are tangible and urgent threats that are targeting us -- not just for simply blackmailing (South Korea) or for negotiations," Park said.

"North Korea has warned of additional provocation, and this raises the risks of a war on the Korean Peninsula or could lead to various forms of provocations such as terrorism or localized provocations," she added.

The meeting was attended by the leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People's Party -- Lee Jung-hyun, Choo Mi-ae and Park Jie-won, respectively.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye (2nd from R) and the leaders of the the ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People's Party -- Lee Jung-hyun (R), Choo Mi-ae (2nd from L) and Park Jie-won -- chat before their talks at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Sept. 12, 2016. (Yonhap)

It is the first such gathering since the new National Assembly began its term on May 30.

Besides the political leaders, the meeting was also attended by National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho.

In the face of Pyongyang's mounting military threats, the commander-in-chief has repeatedly stressed the importance of national unity, warning that the communist regime has sought to sow division among South Koreans.

During Monday's meeting, Park also called for bipartisan support for the planned deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system, which she has repeatedly defended as an "inevitable, self-defense" measure.

Last week, the president called for an end to the "political offensive" against the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to the Korean Peninsula.

"There is no reason for a government to exist if it leaves its people defenseless (against North Korean threats)," she said, noting that the THAAD deployment is not a matter that requires parliamentary approval.

"It is the bare minimum we can do to defend ourselves," she added, emphasizing that the efficacy of THAAD has already been proven. Seoul announced in July that it aims to have a THAAD battery installed in the country by late 2017.

Park, in addition, stressed that there is no reason for THAAD to undermine the security interests of any country other than the North, rejecting arguments raised by China that the missile defense system hurts its key interests.

The leaders of the two opposition parties, Choo and Park, have opposed THAAD, arguing it would further aggravate cross-border tensions and complicate efforts to resolve the decades-old nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

Dismissing the call to send a special envoy to the North, the president said dialogue would only allow the North to stall for time and further advance its nuclear capabilities.

"Even though there was dialogue (in the past), Pyongyang did not stop developing nuclear arms," she said. "Dialogue would also undermine international cooperation (against the North's nuclear program)."

The president, then, pointed out that there is now a "contest" between the North's will to develop nuclear arms and that of the international community to thwart it.

"We should definitely win that contest," she said.

Earlier in the day, Park Jie-won proposed setting up a consultative body among the ruling and opposition parties, and the government. But Park rejected the proposal.

"Basically, the president plays a central role (in handling the security issue)," she pointed out, noting that there are various communication channels to discuss security matters.

Touching on last year's agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to settle the issue of Japan's wartime enslavement of Korean women, Park dismissed the speculation that there was a secret deal regarding the relocation of a statue symbolizing the victims.

Tokyo has argued that removing the statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul was part of the Dec. 28 deal. Seoul has dismissed the argument, saying it cannot get rid of the statue as it was erected by a civic group.

During the meeting, the opposition leaders also mentioned the scandal involving Woo Byung-woo, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. The opposition has been calling for his dismissal for some time.

The president countered that as a special prosecutorial team is investigating it, it would be best to wait for the outcome before taking action.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye (C) holds a meeting with the leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People's Party at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Sept. 12, 2016. The ministers of defense, foreign affairs, unification and finance also attended the meeting. (Yonhap)


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