Cablegate: Rok President Lee Delivers Nuanced Statement On


DE RUEHUL #0617/01 0870941
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY AD755970 MSI4625-695)
P 270941Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During his visit to the Unification
Ministry on March 26, ROK President Lee Myung-bak made
extensive comments on North Korea, especially the importance
of denuclearization. Lee stressed that peace and prosperity
in North Korea could be achieved only through
denuclearization. Highlights of Lee's remarks, provided in
full by an Embassy contact, include:

Reunification. Nobody knows when and how the two Koreas will
be reunified, but what is clear is that all Koreans, whether
from the North or South, want "peaceful and sincere"
reunification. South Korean leaders must work toward
reunification within a transparent framework of rules and
principles; past governments have lacked such a framework.
The two Koreas already have the beginnings of such a
framework in the Basic Agreement that took effect in 1992.

Denuclearization. The most important component of the Basic
Agreement concerns denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea must live up to the Agreement by implementing the
agreements reached in the Six Party Talks. While
denuclearization is of utmost importance, South Korea also
recognizes the need to help relieve the tremendous
humanitarian difficulties facing North Koreans.

Economic Assistance. South Korea will and must provide
humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea, whom
Lee said that he "loved". But North Koreans too must help in
humanitarian issues. They must provide accounting for POWs
and those who were kidnapped, as well as accommodating family
reunification meetings. Large economic projects, Mt. Kumgang
and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, should continue. But,
again, North Korea must cooperate, because without the two
sides aiming for the same goals, the projects cannot succeed.
An unofficial translation of the complete remarks follows.

2. (SBU) On March 26, President Lee Myung-bak was briefed for
two hours by the Ministry of Unification (MOU) on
inter-Korean activities and relations. In addition to 31 MOU
officials, the briefing was also attended by the Minister of
Strategy and Finance, Kang Man-soo, and National Security
Advisor Kim Byung-kook. Following an introduction by
Minister of Unification Kim Ha-joong, President Lee addressed
the MOU officials.

Begin text of remarks.


The Ministry of Unification will work in a new way in
accordance with the Lee Myung-bak government's vision toward
an advanced ROK. At this new juncture, while there has been
both pros and cons in the past unification policies, I would
first like to look back on what went wrong. The pursuit of
national unification must be based on a national consensus
and unity. There have been criticisms that the Ministry of
Unification did not do enough to resolve ideological
conflicts within the ROK or to reach a national consensus on
unification. It is also true that at times we aroused
concerns from our citizens over South-North relations by
failing to listen to their voice and seeing eye to eye with
them. I feel deeply responsible. Now I would like to renew
our determination and attitude. Improving South-North
relations is essential to realizing national stability and
economic development, as well as building an advanced,
unified Korea. I would like to apply the creative and
pragmatic spirit -- an important underpinning of the new
government -- to the inter-Korean relations as well. I
intend to transform the inter-Korean relations into a
forward-looking, productive, and mutually beneficial
relationship based on firm principles and a flexible
approach. In so doing, I will seek ways to return the
inter-Korean relations to where they belong, and pursue
stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula based on
mutual trust. I believe this will lay the groundwork for an
advanced, unified Korea. The MOU will do its best to regain
the people's support by fully communicating with, and serving
them. In so doing, we will do our best for the Lee Myung-bak
government to fulfill its role in the history.


This occasion of the Ministry of Unification's briefing
reminds me of many things. Minister Kim has already
commented on the past unification policies. While
recognizing the positive aspects of our past efforts toward
South-North reconciliation and harmony, we stand at a
threshold today, where South-North relations should begin
anew in this new year, being upgraded by not just one notch,
but even two notches.

We have cried out for unification so many times, for so long.
Leaders of both South Korea and North Korea have always
cried out for unification. But now we must rethink whether
it was a genuine yearning from the bottom of the hearts and
minds of the peoples of both the ROK and DPRK, or just a
strategic motto for their leaders.

Everyone in South Korea and North Korea wants a true
unification. We still have to reach a consensus among the
people over the means, method, and timing of unification. We
will fully respect the will of the both people in employing
policies toward unification. But at this initial stage of
the new government, we need to take stock of the many pending
issues between South and North, and reaffirm the basic spirit
of the inter-Korean relations.

The South-North Basic Agreement was signed in 1991 and took
effect in 1992. North Korea still officially acknowledges
the Basic Agreement. Of course there is a more recent summit
agreement between the South and North. But we must abide by
the spirit of the 1991 Basic Agreement, which is the most
essential of all. The Basic Agreement touches on the nuclear
issue of North Korea and on the Peninsula, which I think is
the most important issue between South and North. It is not
just South Korea that wants the denuclearization of the
Korean Peninsula. North Korea has already agreed on the
spirit of denuclearization as well. In accordance with the
spirit, I hope the nuclear problem will be resolved through
the Six-party Talks. The Republic of Korea must continue to
endeavor for the nuclear dismantlement of North Korea by
actively cooperating along the Six-Party Talks process.

There are a number of South-North issues, including how to
proceed with humanitarian assistance, and how to define the
South-North relationship until nuclear abandonment. One
thing is clear: We should love the North Korean people as we
love the South Korean people. In this regard, we will
continue with our cooperation to help the North Korean people
out of their difficult situation.

But North Korea also has to acknowledge the fact that both
South and North are cooperating. As they do so -- although
not as a condition -- I think we can cooperate from a
humanitarian perspective. Although there might be major
problems along the way, I believe the South and North have
agreed to hold cautious talks on issues such as prisoners of
war, abductees, and the aging of separated families, all from
a humanitarian perspective.

The Mt. Kumkang tourism and the Kaesong Industrial Complex
are actually the projects that most visibly represent
inter-Korean cooperation. Despite their room for improvement
in many aspects, I believe that these projects must go on and
that the South and the North should work together to continue
what needs to be done in order for those projects to be a
success. These projects are not just for South Korea. They
are mutually beneficial, helping both North Korean and South
Korean businesses. In that regard, both sides must
cooperate. For a genuine inter-Korean business to take place
in earnest, we must admit that many of the inter-Korean
issues need to be ironed out.

My government will approach South-North consultations with
sincerity and an open mind. This is not something to be
worked out unilaterally. Both sides must mutually recognize
what needs to be recognized, and work to successfully
reconcile differences, promote peace, and realize
co-prosperity in both economies.

We cannot expect North Korea to rely on help from others
forever. As a single ethnic nation, we must help North Korea
stand on its own feet economically as soon as possible. I
believe North Korea has the capability. We are keeping our
eyes on the resolution of North Korea nuclear issue through
the Six-Party Talks. We must also make efforts ourselves.
The North Korean leadership should realize that resolving the
nuclear problem will benefit the DPRK, because: 1) the
nuclear issue causes many problems on the Peninsula; 2) we
cannot unify with a nuclear-North Korea; and 3) it makes
full-fledged economic cooperation difficult. Once it gives
up its nuclear ambitions, North Korea will stabilize, peace
will be maintained, its economy will prosper, and it will lay
the groundwork for economic self-reliance. We are always
ready to cooperate, once the North Korea issues are resolved
through close cooperation with the international community.
This problem also needs South-North cooperation at an
appropriate time. I think we need to coordinate the timing
of our consultations.

Against this background, there will not be any South-North
negotiations against the will of the people anymore. We will
be actively ready for South-North dialogue on any issue,
based on transparent, internationally recognized rules. In
light of this, Ministry of Unification officials will need
to change their attitude toward negotiation. You should be
guided by the spirit of genuinely helping North Korea,
reviving its economy, and allowing its people at least the
minimum level of basic rights to pursue happiness. Under the
spirit, the South and North should negotiate while mutually
taking balanced steps. Once the April 9 National Assembly
election is over and inter-Korean negotiations begin in
various areas, I believe there will be a chance for us to
seriously discuss the new government's perspectives on
unification and ways to address a number of North Korean

The new government aims at making Korea an advanced,
world-class nation. In this process, I hope North Korea
would also have a chance to join in and develop. I would
rather seek a way for both Koreas to prosper together, than
for the Republic of Korea to advance while leaving North
Korea out as the worst economy on the globe. To this end, I
intend to deal with state affairs from a creative and
pragmatic perspective. This approach should of course extend
to inter-Korean issues. If we are stuck in the past -- in
terms of the pace of change, the way of doing business, and
the way of thinking -- then we will not be able to open up a
new era. Today is different than yesterday, and tomorrow
will be much more different than today. Everything is
continuously changing. Without change, we cannot survive.
As you know, we live in an era when Republic of Korea, with
its dearth of natural resources, must weather the high prices
of resources, and when the ripple effects of the U.S.
financial crisis are directly felt here in the Republic of
Korea. If we are stuck in the past without changing in this
fast-changing era, we will not survive. So we must change,
and so must North Korea.

Against this backdrop, I call on the Ministry of Unification
to work in this new Administration with self-initiated
creativity and pragmatism. I know some believe that I am not
interested in unification, and wonder why I attempted to
scrap the Ministry of Unification. I don't think unification
is more likely with the Ministry of Unification and unlikely
otherwise. More than anyone else, I love the North Korean
people. I hope the North Korean people will reach the level
where every one of them can enjoy the minimum basic rights to
human happiness. More than anybody else, I hope the last
divided nation on earth will be unified. Already the
Republic of Korea has attained the 20,000 dollar per capita
income, and is looking forward to the 30,000 dollar level.
But politicians' explanations are not enough to reach a
consensus on the timing, method, and process for genuine
unification. Nor should it be that way. We should pursue
unification while respecting the will of the 70 million
people of the combined Koreas. I am very positive about the
South and North coming together and talking to each other.
It is just that I will not do it the same way as in the past.
Perhaps the new government might be even more proactive
about inter-Korean issues.

Given the many circumstances surrounding North Korea, we
should also seek ways to approach the North Korean defector
issue from a humanitarian perspective. It is an issue we
should consider with deep humanitarian consciousness and
sympathy toward those defectors who have nowhere to go or
nothing to eat.

I look forward to what will be a serious discussion of
unification issues today. You (MOU officials) and I need to
coordinate and share the way we look at North Korea and
unification. When public officials come together around a
cause, the Republic of Korea is sure to advance. But when
they split, we can't even take one step forward. This change
begins from the top. Leaders must first change, before
demanding change from the people. First the President must
change, then the Cabinet members should change, and then you
should change. This will eventually bring about a real
change in the nation. Thus, share your ideas, discuss and
exchange views, work as proactive participants in the new
government, and stand at the forefront to successfully
improve South-North relations. As able and experienced
officials, I am sure you can do anything, as long as your
thinking is right. If you deal with inter-Korean relations
in a fairer, more just manner, and with strong dedication, I
am optimistic that everything will work out well.

End text of remarks.

3. (SBU) COMMENT: Excerpts from President Lee's remarks
received prominent coverage in local and international print
media as they indicate once again his harder line of thinking
in dealing with the North. We were struck by the President's
comments on his "love" for the North Korean people, which
suggested a more personal connection to his fellow Koreans
while avoiding mention of the DPRK regime. The remarks also
dispelled concerns that economic ventures at Mt. Kumgang and
KIC might come to a halt, as was reported in Korean media in
recent days. President Lee has yet to clearly answer key
policy questions such as whether or not the South will
provide food and fertilizer aid to the North, and how closely
progress in the Six-Party talks will be linked to relations
between the North and South,. But this nuanced statement
leaves the door open for detailed interactions with the North.

© Scoop Media

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