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Seoul considers joining anti-WMD proliferation plan

President says PSI membership not linked to Pyongyang’s rocket launch  PLAY AUDIO

Apr 07,2009
Despite fierce opposition by the North, South Korea says it is actively considering joining the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative to take part in the international efforts to stop the transfer of weapons of mass destruction.

Following North Korea’s Sunday launch of a long-range rocket, President Lee Myung-bak held a breakfast meeting with leaders of the country’s three main political parties yesterday and discussed the issue.

“Participating in the PSI has been reviewed in terms of Korea’s international cooperation to stop proliferation of WMDs and to fight terrorism, unrelated to North Korea’s rocket launch,” President Lee was quoted as saying in the meeting by Blue House spokesman Lee Dong-kwan. “We are actively considering joining it.”

The decision to join the PSI will be made independently, apart from the North’s rocket launch, the president was quoted as saying. “The president explained that it is not a matter of us joining the initiative immediately because the North fired the rocket, nor postponing the decision if the rocket had not been launched,” Lee Dong-kwan said. “That is the government’s official position.”

The Proliferation Security Initiative is an international regime led by Washington to interdict weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and related material. The international partnership was announced in 2003 by then-U.S. President George W. Bush.

Under the initiative, the United States and its allies intercept and inspect planes and ships in international waters suspected of carrying illegal weapons or missile systems. As of now, 94 countries are members of the program.

North Korea has condemned the PSI, warning that the South’s participation will be regarded as a declaration of war. While the previous liberal administrations in Seoul were reluctant to join the program, the Lee administration is more positive about participation. According to the Blue House, politicians were split over the issue.

“Lee Hoi-chang, head of the Liberty Forward Party, said Korea must enthusiastically participate, while Chung Sye-kyun, head of the Democratic Party, said we should be more cautious about it,” Lee Dong-kwan said.

Along with the two opposition party leaders, Grand National Chairman Park Hee-tae attended the meeting. Lee was accompanied by the Blue House’s senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security. The politicians were briefed about the North’s rocket launch, consultation among concerned nations and Korea’s assessment on the North’s failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit.

Shortly after the Blue House meeting, Chung repeated his position about Korea’s plan to join the PSI. “I think the government and other parties are agreeing to Korea’s participation in the PSI,” Chung said at the party’s Supreme Council meeting. “But the Democratic Party’s position is that the matter must be decided more cautiously. I told the president it is necessary to manage the situation smoothly bit by bit, rather than ratcheting up tensions with North Korea.”

While discussion at the UN Security Council to punish the North for its long-range rocket launch was stalled, Seoul’s decision on joining the PSI has emerged as a key issue at the National Assembly. Once the decision is made, participating in the PSI will proceed quickly, because it does not require legislative approval.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan repeated yesterday the president’s position before the lawmakers. “The government is actively considering joining the PSI, and we are not hesitating,” Yu said. “How North Korea will react is nothing for us to be concerned about.”

DP Representative Song Min-soon, who served as the foreign minister for the Roh administration from 2006 to 2008, disagreed. “China has opposed the PSI, and the move will escalate unnecessary tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula. It is not a card to be played at this point,” Song said. “We must be more prudent about it.”

In addition to the debate over South Korea’s joining of the PSI, the nation’s leaders also argued about who should be responsible for the North’s latest series of provocations and frozen inter-Korean relations. According to the Blue House, Lee told the political leaders that he is not a hawk. “I want to handle the North Korean issues pragmatically,” the president was quoted as saying. “Normalizing inter-Korean relations will benefit both Koreas.”

Liberty Forward Party spokeswoman Park Sun-young said Chung of the Democratic Party was critical of the Lee administration for the current inter-Korean deadlock. President Lee, in turn, said the past two liberal administrations were actually responsible, Park said.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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