3 ministers kept on due to N. Korea issues

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3 ministers kept on due to N. Korea issues

The survival of the three security-related ministers in Lee’s shake-up of his cabinet Sunday reflects Seoul’s intention to continue pressing Pyongyang over the sinking of the Cheonan warship, according to political insiders yesterday.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, the top executors of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s uncompromising policies against North Korea, were kept on. Eleven minister-level officials were replaced.

Some observers were surprised by the Lee administration’s decision to keep the three, considering calls by the opposition and by certain civic groups to get rid of them. They blame the three for ratcheting up inter-Korean tension with their unforgiving stance on inter-Korean issues. Rumors that the three would be replaced had circulated before the reshuffling was announced.

Jeon Hyeon-heui, spokeswoman for the major opposition Democratic Party, called retaining the three officials “a ducking of responsibility.”

Observers see it as reconfirmation of Lee’s adherence to ongoing policies, such as pressing North Korea on various issues and focusing on strengthening international cooperation. The presidential diplomatic and security staffs, including Kim Sung-hwan, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs, were also kept on by the Blue House.

“At a time like this, when complex issues are intertwined with each other, including the Cheonan incident and sanctions against North Korea and against Iran, the government needs to form a diplomacy-security line in a way that the existing policies can be managed consistently,” said a government official.

The official said the important task of preparing for the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November and of preventing additional provocation from North Korea leading up to the summit were considerations in keeping the three ministers.

The Blue House also stressed consistency.

“As far as I know, they were ruled out from the reshuffle out of consideration that it is better maintaining the continuity and consistency of the work,” said Hong Sang-pyo, senior public affairs secretary, in a media briefing.

Analysts said the government took into consideration the possibility that replacing the three ministers could send a wrong signal to the North. When the administration looked at the situation - that the North still refuses to take responsibility for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, along with the killing of its 46 sailors, and that it shows little sincerity in relation to nonproliferation issues, replacing the three could be seen as Seoul turning against them, they said.

The strong backing of the United States over Seoul’s stance against the North most likely played a role as well, they said.

With the three ministers remaining in the cockpit, the government is expected to continue seeking an apology from Pyongyang over the Cheonan’s sinking as well as employing military or nonmilitary sanctions, including drills and inter-Korean trade suspension.

By Moon Gwang-lip, Kang Chan-ho [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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