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Ruling Camp Quietly Shifting Opinions on NK Ties

Posted September. 21, 2010 11:29,   


The government and the ruling party are known to have begun discussion of an exit strategy from the Cheonan sinking and improvement of strained inter-Korean relations.

"If North Korea changes its stance in any of the issues like the nuclear issue, the Cheonan sinking, and the repatriation of South Korean POWs, the (South) Korean government will accept the various requests of the North," a ruling party source told The Dong-A Ilbo Monday. "If North Korea gives the South an appropriate cause, it can get what it wants."

"On the repatriation of POWs, presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee almost handled the issue in talks with Kim Yang Gun, the director of the united front department of the North Korean Workers` Party, in Singapore in October last year. No deal was struck, however, because of disagreement over the number to be repatriated. We no longer stick to the Cheonan sinking."

Of course, this is not the official stance of the South Korean government.

President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea to apologize in an interview with Russian state-run television aired Sept. 10.

Kim Tae-hyo, senior presidential adviser for national strategy, said Wednesday, "An apology for the Cheonan sinking should be the precondition for large-scale humanitarian assistance to the North."

In other words, measures issued against North Korea May 24 announced after the sinking remain valid but the ruling party`s stance is slowly changing.

In particular, a comment by a ruling party source that the party no longer prioritizes the sinking can be interpreted as the stance that it could allow North Korea to have more options.

On sending a special envoy to North Korea, Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae-oh told KBS 1TV, "Someone has to go if there is an opportunity," reflecting a change in stance within the ruling party.

"Only if trust exists between the two Koreas can we give more when the North wants it urgently, and the change begins," he said. "Giving 5,000 tons is not the end. Maybe North Korea`s request for help might serve as the beginning of trust."

The Washington Post said Friday that President Lee previously demanded that North Korea acknowledge its guilt and apologize, but it appears that the demand has been softened to something more like seeking condolences, indicating change within the South Korean government.