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South Korea Promises Full Scale Review Of Engagement With North

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun (R) talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) during their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, 19 October 2006. Photo courtesy of Jung Yeon-Je and AFP.
by David Millikin
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19, 2006
South Korea promised US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday to carry out a "full scale" review of its economic ties with North Korea in light of UN sanctions against the regime, a senior US official said. South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon told Rice they would bring their government's engagement policy with the North into line with UN trade sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after it carried out its first nuclear test last week, the official said.

Rice arrived in Seoul from Tokyo Thursday on a four-nation tour aimed at bolstering allies' resolve to enforce the sanctions against North Korea embodied in UN Security Council resolution 1718.

She travels on to China on Friday and then Russia on Saturday.

The UN resolution bans trade with North Korea related to its development of nuclear arms, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and also imposes financial controls to starve the North Korean military of funds.

But the most controversial measure allows for the inspection of all cargo to and from the impoverished state, aimed at preventing its cash-strapped government from selling material for an atomic bomb or other illicit weapons to terrorists or other states.

While Japan assured Rice in meetings Wednesday that it fully supported the sanctions, South Korea and China have balked at taking measures that could cause the collapse of their impoverished neighbor.

Seoul has notably resisted joining in efforts to inspect North Korean ships, fearing a high-seas confrontation that could escalate into fighting.

The South Koreans have also been committed to a so-called "sunshine policy" that involves providing investment, trade and aid to foster a rapprochement with its reclusive rival.

A senior US official who accompanied Rice in Thursday's talks said that while details of specific projects in the North were not discussed, the Koreans said they were "engaged in a full-scale evaluation of the entire range of North-South relations".

"They are looking at all of the aspects of their relationship and will be announcing how they will comply with 1718 in the very near future," he said on condition of anonymity.

South Korea froze shipments of rice and fertilizer worth some 300 million dollars a year to North Korea in July after Pyongyang test-fired ballistic missiles into nearby sea.

Following the North's nuclear test, the government could put restrictions on another 300 million dollars in commercial dealings as part of their policy review, the official said.

At the same time, Rice visibly tried to soften the demands made on South Korea in terms of using ship inspections and interdiction to choke off trafficking in nuclear arms or material.

Before arriving in Asia, a senior US official accompanying Rice had spoken of the need for blanket monitoring of virtually all North Korean vessels and airplanes carrying cargo worldwide.

South Korea fears such intrusive search and seizures could spark a renewal of high-seas clashes which took place a few years ago between North and South Korean vessels.

But Rice Thursday said the inspection and interdiction requirements in the sanctions resolution had been "misunderstood" and "exaggerated", and that Washington was not seeking a sanctions regime in which every North Korean vessel would be accosted.

"I want to emphasize again that the United States has no desire to do anything to escalate this situation" or further destabilize the region, she said.

The United States, she said, is looking to boost existing efforts under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a US-led, informal alliance of states involved in trying to halt air and naval trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

These would include countries enforcing shipping controls in their territorial waters and monitoring shipping, including with radioactivity detectors, in their ports, Rice said.

In the event Seoul's participation in sanctions did spark a conflict, Rice vowed that Washington would "act on its obligations" under mutual defense agrfeements that put South Korea under America's "nuclear umbrella".

earlier related report
Seoul says won't scrap joint projects with North Korea
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19 - South Korea insisted Thursday that two joint projects with North Korea -- seen by critics as a source of funds for its weapons programmes -- would not be scrapped despite last week's nuclear test.

The projects have raised 950 million dollars for the North since 1998 but the government said they did not fall under the terms of UN sanctions imposed after Pyongyang's test.

"The government and ruling party agree that the businesses in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong are not directly related to the UN Security Council resolution and affirm that the projects need to continue," said Kim Seok-Hwan, spokesman for Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook.

Han earlier met the ruling Uri Party's chairman and the presidential chief of staff to reaffirm their backing for the projects, the spokesman said.

Mount Kumgang is a tourist resort launched in 1998 and funded by the South. Kaesong is an industrial complex also paid for by Seoul.

Han was speaking just before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived as part of a tour to press North Korea's neighbours to strictly enforce the sanctions.

The Security Council Saturday unanimously adopted the measures, which are mainly related to curbing the North's weapons programmes, after the communist state's October 9 test.

Top US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said Tuesday that Kumgang "seems to be designed to give money to the North Korean authorities."

But he expressed no criticism of the South-funded industrial estate at Kaesong, saying it was "trying to deal with a longer-term issue of economic reform" in the hardline communist state.

South Korea's unification ministry said it was considering halting government subsidies for trips to Kumgang, which has also been under fire from domestic critics.

The Yonhap news agency reported that Seoul has already decided to stop the subsidies.

The government, which has followed a "sunshine" policy of engagement with its neighbour, sees the projects as a symbol of rapprochement.

It has subsidized tours for students, war veterans and disabled people to Kumgang, which is run by South Korean firm Hyundai Asan.

The subsidy cost 21.5 billion won (22.5 million dollars) in 2002 but the cost fell to about 2.9 billion won in 2004.

An average of 40,000 South Koreans a month visit the resort.

Officials said Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon would explain Seoul's decision to Rice, who said Tuesday in Washington her country "will see what the South Koreans decide to do about their activities in general with North Korea."

Dong-A newspaper said Wednesday that the government was considering asking Hyundai Asan to pay North Korea in goods and commodities for the tours rather than cash.

Hyundai Asan flatly denied the report, saying it has no plan to change its method of payment.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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