Posted : 2009-08-16 17:23
Updated : 2009-08-16 17:23

Lee’s Arms Reduction Proposal Still Sketchy

By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

North Korea experts positively assessed President Lee Myung-bak's proposal of holding inter-Korean talks to discuss issues concerning the reduction of conventional weapons, saying it was an essential part of peace building.

But they said Sunday that Lee's new peace initiative would only be complete if and when the President provides details of what incentives South Korea can give to its northern neighbor in exchange for denuclearization.

Their reactions came after Lee unveiled what he called a peace initiative for the Korean Peninsula in his speech marking the 64th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Saturday.

During the speech, Lee pledged to actively seek an international cooperative program ``to ensure economic development in the North and enhance the quality of life for the North Korean people'' when the North gives up nuclear weapons.

He further vowed to set up a high-level meeting between the two Koreas to make a common economic community happen in the coming years and pursue inter-Korean projects in the economy, education, finance, infrastructure building and quality of life in collaboration with other nations and international institutions.

The President also proposed inter-Korean talks to discuss the reduction of conventional weapons, saying, ``Only when we reduce the number of weapons and troops and re-deploy them rearward will we be able to take a step forward to genuine peace.''

``Lee's addressing the arms control issue in the speech was timely because the reduction of conventional weapons is as important as the dismantlement of nuclear stockpiles for peace building,'' said professor Ryoo Kihl-jae of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Some analysts were skeptical about Lee's proposal, saying it was not timely as arms control talks can only be realized with mutual trust.

They argued that there is no trust and therefore inter-Korean talks to deal with the matter were unlikely to take place.

Despite this skepticism, Ryoo told The Korea Times that Lee's remark on the matter was definitely a nice try.

The North Korea expert said the President would have been better if he had addressed more concrete and specific measures regarding what South Korea could do to encourage the Stalinist country to go ahead with action to dismantle its nuclear program.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, said in a telephone interview with The Korea Times that President Lee sent a clear and positive message to the North by unveiling a more detailed plan than before.

``Lee showed that he was willing to have dialogue with North Korea,'' he said.

But Cheong added it was unlikely for the North to welcome Lee's proposal or give an immediate positive reaction to it, partly because the nuclear program will be resolved mainly through Washington-Pyongyang negotiations, not inter-Korean talks.

Professor Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University said President Lee came up with more specific measures for the North.

``I think North Korea will review it carefully, although it will not welcome or hail the proposal immediately,'' said the professor.

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