Hard-liner to lead Seoul's NKorea policy
By JEAN H. LEE,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, January 20
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's hard-line president tapped a hawkish security expert to head the ministry in charge of relations with Pyongyang on Monday, a move bound to ratchet up already heightened tensions with the communist regime.
Relations between the two Koreas, which fought a three-year war in the 1950s that ended in a shaky truce, have plummeted to their lowest point in a decade since President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago. Pyongyang cut off ties and suspended key joint projects, and last weekend accused the South of plotting war.
On Monday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper reiterated the military's warning that it will respond to any South Korean aggression with "one strike" capable of annihilation.
"The Lee Myung-bak group should bear in mind that our guns and bayonets ... are aimed at their throats," the paper said in an editorial carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, warning that its threats are not "empty talk."
The South denies planning any attack. Seoul put its military on alert but said it sent no new troops at the border.
Hyun In-taek, a UCLA-educated professor who helped shape Lee's campaign platform in 2007, was nominated to head the Unification Ministry as part of a Cabinet reshuffle.
The international diplomacy expert is known to be critical of the reconciliatory "Sunshine Policy" espoused by Seoul's previous liberal leadership, noting that pouring aid into the North unconditionally did not stop the regime from testing a nuclear bomb in 2006.
He helped develop the president's position of standing firm with the nuclear-armed North in demanding reciprocity _ a stance that has earned Lee the slur "human scum" and "traitor" in state-run North Korean media.
With Hyun, Lee's policy on the North will not change but become more firm, experts said.
"I think the appointment shows that the government has no intention of coming up with a conciliatory policy on North Korea anytime soon," political analyst Yu Chang-seon said.
Hyun, who helped draw up Lee's campaign platform promising to help build impoverished North Korea's per capita income to $3,000 if Pyongyang gives up its atomic program _ pledged to try to engage North Korea.
"I'll make efforts to back the president's philosophy and policy so as to move the South-North relations forward," the Korea University professor told The Associated Press.
Analysts say the North's military saber rattling _ just as President-elect Barack Obama takes office in Washington _ is a well-timed negotiating tactic.
"North Korea wants to draw Obama's attention," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, calling relations with Washington the regime's top foreign policy goal.
Obama has said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il if it helps the international process to disarm Pyongyang.
The U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and China have been trying for years to coax North Korea into giving up its atomic ambitions. Pyongyang agreed in 2007 to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid, but the process has been stalled since August.
South Korea's No. 2 nuclear envoy said his team was allowed access to facilities at North Korea's main reprocessing center during a five-day visit that ended Monday, Seoul's highest-profile trip to the North in a year.
Hwang Joon-kook, arriving in Beijing on a flight from Pyongyang, told reporters he held talks with the North's Foreign Ministry but "it seems like their stance is mostly unchanged." He did not elaborate.
Associated Press writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.
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