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Following the victory of the conservative opposition in the December
Following the victory of the conservative opposition in the December 19 presidential elections, the South Koreans are anticipating changes - both in the economy and politics, and first and foremost, in relations with the now nuclear North Korea.

Before, the Republic of Korea was ruled first by military dictators, then by dissidents and human rights champions and now a prominent businessman has been elected for the first time. His name is Lee Myung-bak.

After receiving a university education in management, he went to work for the Hyundai Corporation, known in Russia for its cars, and after 12 years he headed its construction company.

Lee Myung-bak was supported by almost half of the voters and received twice as many votes as his main rival - Chung Dong-young, a candidate of the ruling Liberal coalition.

During a ten-year rule by the advocates of democratization and rapprochement with Pyongyang, a new generation of voters grew up in South Korea. Having not suffered from the obvious lack of freedom, they opted for economic stability.

To all intents and purposes, the economy will become the new president's chief concern after his inauguration on February 25, 2008. Several years ago he was the Mayor of Seoul; this experience in business and management is expected to be useful in his new job.

Lee Myung-bak has already mapped out a program of reforms to reduce the tax burden, and give new opportunities to small and medium-sized businesses and guarantees of stability to large enterprises. This is what the nation voted for.

As for diplomacy and relations with North Korea, priorities here may change. The previous government of President Roh Moo-hyun favored rapprochement with Pyongyang in the hope that it would help solve outstanding military-political issues. Now Lee Myung-bak may act otherwise. After his victory was confirmed, the President-Elect told journalists about the impending changes in the situation whereby the previous administration acted unilaterally in favor of North Korea.

Everything boils down to the problem of eliminating its nuclear weapons; Pyongyang can hope for tangible economic contacts only when this problem is resolved, he said. In other words, he has set a precondition for developing bilateral relations.

Without going into details, Lee Myung-bak has merely promised to work for persuading Pyongyang that renunciation of nuclear weapons will allow North Korea to preserve its current socio-political system and help its people.

At the same time, this statement does not mean that Lee Myung-bak will renounce all programs of South-North cooperation, which were launched by the Roh Moo-hyun government.

Despite some delays for technical reasons, the process of North Korea's nuclear disarmament has been going rather smoothly. Within the framework of six-lateral talks (Russia, the United States, China, both Korean states and Japan), North Korea has stopped the operation of its weapon-grade plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in the outgoing year and has embarked on its decommissioning under international control.

But the final result depends not only on Pyongyang. Other sides should also abide by their commitments. The United States has promised to remove North Korea from the list of supporters of terrorism and renounce economic sanctions against it; other parties should help North Korea by supplying it with liquid fuel and equipment required for the modernization of conventional electric power stations.

North Korea has declared more than once that it will renounce nuclear weapons, which it tested in October 2006 only if it is no longer threatened, primarily by the United States.

Lee Myung-bak has promised to continue dialogue in the six-lateral format and promote success of American-North Korean talks on normalization. But if in the future relations between North Korea and the United States are aggravated by contradictions, the new South Korean leader is not likely to support Pyongyang like his liberal predecessors.

At the same time, his government will have to abide by the accords reached by the liberals at inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007, and the recent bilateral agreement on economic cooperation concluded at prime ministers' level. The projects, outlined by the latter, including the development of South Korean technopark and tourist zones in North Korea, are strictly of an economic character; business and investment are actively involved in them and for this reason their implementation is not likely to be discontinued.

But assistance from the Seoul government is another matter. South Korea can make support dependent on the implementation of its political demands by its northern neighbor. The human rights issue may create tensions. Lee Myung-bak has told journalists that this subject will not be avoided. He intends to be persistent but persuasive in his attempts to convince North Korea in the need to remove all international doubts in its compliance with human rights.

He told journalists that friendly criticism may improve North Korean society. It is not clear, however, whether he bears in mind that Pyongyang may refuse to take any criticism at all.

The Seoul press reports that Lee Myung-bak has proposed the following formula for the further development of bilateral relations: denuclearization-openness-3000. It means that if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, doors between the two states will be flung open and North Korea will receive assistance, which will increase its per capita income to $3,000 in ten years.

For the time being, Lee Myung-bak's program of relations with North Korea is mostly based on declarations, which is understandable, considering his intention to concentrate on the economy. This may lead to a pause in the liberal-launched rapprochement between the two countries.

Ivan Zakharchenko is international political commentator.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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