- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2013

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday that her nation will respond “decisively” to North Korean provocations, and called for a unified international response to threats from Pyongyang.

Ms. Park assured a joint session of Congress that her government is reacting “resolutely, but calmly.”

As long as the 60-year-old U.S.-South Korean alliance remains intact, “You may rest assured no North Korean provocation can succeed,” she said.

North Korea’s third nuclear test on Feb. 12 drew a fresh round of U.N. Security Council sanctions. Pyongyang responded with near-daily threats to attack South Korea, the United States and U.S. military bases in Japan.

Ms. Park said it is time to put an end to the “vicious circle” Pyongyang uses to advance its nuclear capabilities.

“The pattern is all too familiar and badly misguided,” she said, speaking in English. “North Korea provokes a crisis. The international community imposes a certain period of sanctions. Later it tries to patch things up by offering concessions and rewards. Meanwhile, Pyongyang uses that time to advance its nuclear capabilities, and uncertainty prevails.”

Ms. Park urged North Korea to make the “right choice,” and said the international community must induce that choice by delivering a clear, consistent message.

China, a key ally of North Korea, has been reluctant to press Pyongyang too firmly out of concern that it could trigger the collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime and send thousands of refugees streaming into China.

“[Ms. Park] is investing a lot of effort to try and bring the U.S. and Chinese approaches into greater harmony with each other,” said Scott Snyder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Simply proposing a trilateral U.S.-China-South Korea dialogue on regional security, I think, is evidence that she wants to forge a more broadly cooperative U.S.-China approach that conforms with South Korean interests.”

Despite her tough stand, Ms. Park is keeping humanitarian assistance to North Korea separate from the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and Pyongyang’s provocations will be met “decisively,” the South Korean leader said to applause. “At the same time, I will not link humanitarian aid to the North Korean people, such as infants and young children, to the political situation.”

The U.S. last provided food aid to North Korea in March 2009.

“A complementary [U.S.] approach to the South Korean policy would be to de-link humanitarian assistance from political considerations, but there are some strong congressional voices that are moving in the opposite directions,” Mr. Snyder said.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been a prominent opponent of providing U.S. food aid to North Korea. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

In March, a South Korean charity provided tuberculosis medicine to North Korea.

“What we may see in the coming weeks is South Korean willingness to provide additional assistance through international or U.N. channels,” Mr. Snyder said.

Ms. Park held out the hope that a gradual build-up of trust between the neighbors could lead to a peaceful reunification. “But as we say in Korea, ‘It takes two hands to clap,’” she said.

In her address, Ms. Park assured lawmakers that the South Korean economy is stable, called for peace initiative in Northeast Asia, sought a “modernized” successor to an existing U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear agreement, and urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide U.S. visas to South Korean workers.

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