Return of security council high priority for Park

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Return of security council high priority for Park

The main priority for President-elect Park Geun-hye’s foreign affairs and security team under the transition committee will be to establish a national security council that will act as a “control tower” to coordinate policies and responses, a key Park official said.

“Having a national security council is important to efficiently promote policies on North Korea and other foreign affairs and security matters, and to enhance coordination among ministries,” the official said. “We plan to come up with a possible plan [on establishing the council] before the new administration kicks off [on Feb. 25].”

Establishing a national security council was one of Park’s campaign pledges in response to critics of the current administration of Lee Myung-bak, which had disorganized responses to crises including attacks by North Korea. The Lee administration closed down the office that existed under the two previous liberal governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

The official also said that once the transition team is formed, members of the foreign affairs and security team will discuss the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea and the country’s recent long-range missile launch.

“If necessary, a group of senior members of the transition team as well as officials from the Blue House, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Ministry of Unification will visit the related countries and discuss ways to cooperate on North Korea issues,” the official said.

He noted that President-elect Park is faced with a “very challenging situation with not only the leadership changes in China and Japan but also the North’s missile launch.”

“I will open a new era for the Korean Peninsula by building strong national security and carrying out trust-based diplomacy,” Park said on Thursday, a day after she was elected as Korea’s first female president.

Throughout her presidential campaign, the 60-year-old Park maintained a conservative approach on North Korea, just like the outgoing President Lee, but a with a little more lenience.

In the first presidential debate with challengers Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party and Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party, Park stressed the importance of “trust-building” between the two Koreas, which have seen relations ice over in recent years following provocations by Pyongyang, including its latest missile launch, which violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. The North also sank a South Korean warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors, and attacked Yeonpyeong Island with artillery shells in November 2010, killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.

While emphasizing the need for strong national security, Park has also stressed in debates and speeches that “there is no precondition for talks [with North Korea] or humanitarian aid” and that she is “willing” to meet the North’s young leader Kim Jong-un to improve South-North relations. According to her aides, however, Park is not interested in holding a summit with North Korea unless it will substantially improve relations.

Park has also urged the North to be “more active in seeking transformation and to choose a new path rather than simply remaining an isolated country.”

With a more lenient approach than President Lee, Park is expected to try to resume inter-Korean talks in the early stages of her administration. She said during the campaign that “policies on North Korea should evolve and that [South Korea] should take a step back from a dichotomous approach - between soft-line or hard-line” and that she will “promote more balanced policies on North Korea.”

“The next five years will be very critical for Korea [under Park’s leadership],” said Yoo Ho-yul, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University. “The next five years should be about guaranteeing peace on the peninsula but also ushering in changes.”

Park has also stressed the North’s denuclearization as a precondition for the six-party talks.

When it comes to national defense policy, Park has pledged to reduce mandatory military service by three months to 18 months. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, the service period was cut from 24 months to 21 months.

“We will review measures to gradually reduce the term,” said Kim Min-seok, spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense, a day after Park was elected president.

Park has also said she will do her best to maintain peace in Northeast Asia. On the day after she was elected president, Park held private meetings with U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xinsen, Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho and Russian Ambassador Konstantin Vnukov. It was her first diplomatic activity, and she stressed to each of them the importance of countries working together to solve security tensions in the region.

A critical test of Park’s administration in regards to Korea-U.S. relations will be upcoming negotiations to revise the Atomic Energy Agreement. The agreement, which was first signed in 1974, does not allow Korea to process spent nuclear fuel. Since late 2010, Korea and the U.S. have been in talks over a revision before it expires in 2014. There is also a negotiation between the two countries on Korea’s share of non-personnel stationing costs for U.S. soldiers in Korea.

Korea is also likely to face continuing problems with Japan over issues of history and territory.

Shinzo Abe, the rightist head of the Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to become prime minister this week, and there are concerns that he will officially reverse past statements of regret for the recruitment of Korean women as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II.

Park has said she will “try to expand peace, reconciliation and cooperation in Northeast Asia based on the right perception of history.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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