- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

SEOUL — South Korea’s unification minister resigned yesterday, the highest-profile casualty yet in a battle over the government’s North Korea policy after an Oct. 9 nuclear test by Pyongyang.

“I am confident about the results our North Korean engagement policy achieved,” said Lee Jong-seok, who became unification minister in February.

A strong advocate of engagement and reconciliation with the communist North, Mr. Lee said, “Faced with North Korea’s nuclear test, I apologize to the people and to the president.”

He said efforts to achieve “peace and security and inter-Korean reconciliation on the peninsula are being recklessly politicized.”

Policy toward North Korea has been the subject of fierce debate after Pyongyang’s underground nuclear detonation.

In the immediate wake of the test — conducted despite repeated warnings from Seoul — opinion polls suggested a strong public reaction against the government’s engagement policy toward the North.

Other key supporters of the policy also are departing the government of President Roh Moo-hyun.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung resigned Monday, citing strained negotiations over the command of U.S. forces during wartime, and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general-designate, is expected to depart his post in the near future.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted sanctions against North Korea less than a week after the nuclear test, but South Korea has been reluctant to punish Pyongyang for fear of angering the often-hostile neighbor.

South Korean investments, which have earned the North about $1 billion in foreign currency, are under scrutiny.

The main projects include a South Korean-financed industrial park and a South Korean tourist project in the North.

North Korea yesterday warned the South not to participate in the U.N. sanctions, calling it a “declaration of confrontation against its own people” and threatening to “take corresponding measures” if the South goes along.

The sanctions include a requirement to inspect cargo ships thought to be holding missile- and nuclear-related materials.

President Bush dismissed the North’s rhetoric.

“The leader of North Korea likes to threaten,” Mr. Bush told reporters in Washington, referring to the North’s Kim Jong-il.

Kim Myung-whai of the Institute of Korean Studies noted the shift in public opinion since the nuclear test.

“The engagement policy is not popular among people; many politicians and the public think it has to be changed,” he said.

Peter Beck, who heads the International Crisis Group’s Seoul office, said there is little evidence that South Korea’s government will change its policy toward the North.

“Government seems unwilling to link North-South cooperation with the broader goal of putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear arms,” Mr. Beck said.

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