Park faces uncertainty with N. Korea

Pyongyang likely to challenge her

SEOUL — Park Geun-hye promises to reach out to North Korea with more humanitarian aid and deeper engagement after she moves into South Korea’s presidential residence on Feb. 25.

Pyongyang, however, may be in no mood to talk anytime soon.

Ms. Park’s declarations ahead of Wednesday’s election that she would soften five years of hard-line policy rang true with voters even as they rejected her opponent’s calls for a more aggressive pursuit of reconciliation with the North.

A skeptical North Korea may quickly test the sincerity of Ms. Park’s offer to engage — possibly even before she takes office.

She is both a leading member of the conservative ruling party and the daughter of the late anti-communist dictator Park Chung-hee, and Pyongyang repeatedly has called her dialogue offers “tricks.”

Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak’s tough approach on North Korea — including his demand that engagement be accompanied by nuclear-disarmament progress — has been deemed a failure by many South Koreans.

During his five years in office, North Korea has conducted nuclear and rocket tests — including a rocket launch last week — and it was blamed for two incidents that left 50 South Koreans dead in 2010.

But reaching out to North Korea’s authoritarian government also has failed to pay off.

Before Mr. Lee, landmark summits under a decade of liberal governments resulted in lofty statements and photo opportunities in Pyongyang between then-leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean presidents, but the North continued to develop its nuclear weapons, which it sees as necessary defense and leverage against Washington and Seoul.

Analysts said Ms. Park’s vague promises of aid and engagement are not likely to be enough to push Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, which Washington and Seoul have demanded for true reconciliation to begin.

To reverse the antipathy North Korea has shown her so far, Ms. Park may need to go further than either her deeply conservative supporters and political allies or a cautious Obama administration will want.

North Korea is good at applying pressure during South Korean transitions” after presidential elections, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea. “North Korea will do something to try to test, and tame, Park.”

Even the last liberal president, Roh Moo-hyun, a champion of no-strings-attached aid to Pyongyang, faced a North Korean short-range missile launch on the eve of his 2003 inauguration.

North Korea put its first satellite into space with last week’s rocket launch, which the United Nations and others called a cover for a test of banned ballistic missile technology.

Despite the launch, Ms. Park says humanitarian aid, including food, medicine and daily goods meant for infants, the sick and other vulnerable people, will flow. She says none of the aid will be anything North Korea’s military could use. She says she’s open to conditional talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

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