SKorea's president-elect faces NKorea uncertainty

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 20, 2012 at 4:18 am •  Published: December 20, 2012
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North Korea, despite its rocket launch, didn't cause much of a buzz with South Korean voters more worried about their economic futures and a host of social issues. But it is of deep interest to Washington, Beijing and Tokyo, which had been holding off on pursuing their North Korea policies until South Korean voters chose their new leader.

The next Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is a hawk on North Korea matters who has supported tighter sanctions because of the rocket launch.

U.S. policy toughened after the embarrassing collapse of an aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal with Pyongyang following the North's failed April rocket launch.

Washington could use a new thaw on the Korean Peninsula as a cover to pursue more nuclear disarmament talks, analysts say, but the Obama administration will also likely want a carefully coordinated approach with Seoul toward Pyongyang.

Park's North Korea policy aims to hold talks meant to build trust and resolve key issues, like the nuclear problem and other security challenges. She'll also provide humanitarian assistance to the North that's not tied to on-going political circumstances, though her camp hasn't settled details, including the amount.

Park also plans to restart joint economic initiatives that were put on hold during the Lee administration as progress occurs on the nuclear issue and after reviewing the projects with lawmakers.

Cynics will say that nothing is likely to work.

Lee's hard-line attempt made little progress. Landmark summits under a decade of liberal governments before Lee took over resulted in lofty statements and photo ops in Pyongyang between Kim Jong Il and South Korean presidents, but did little to change North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

North Korea sees its nuclear programs as necessary defense and leverage in the face of hostility from Washington and Seoul.

Park's statement that she's willing to talk with Kim Jong Un "practically means she's willing to give more money to North Korea," which is Pyongyang's typical demand for dialogue, said Andrei Lankov.

But the heart of the matter — North Korea's nuclear program — might be off limits, regardless of how deep the next Blue House decides to engage.,

"North Korea isn't going to surrender its nukes, they're going to keep them indefinitely," Lankov said. "No amount of bribing or blackmail or begging is going to change it. They are a de facto nuclear power, period, and they are going to stay that way."

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AP writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.

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