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Stability of Korean peninsula, 2012 top priority for foreign ministry

South Korea’s foreign ministry said its top priority in carrying out 2012 policy will be keeping the Korean peninsula stable, as a power transition in North Korea under untested young leader Kim Jong-un is likely to add up uncertainties.

In the aftermath of the death of the North’s long-time leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17, his son -- believed to be in his late 20s -- took over power of the 1.02 million-strong military and the Workers’ Party in a relatively short period of time.

However, it is unclear and uncertain how the North will solidify the young Kim’s power and which directions Pyongyang’s policies towards South Korea and regional powers will go, the ministry said.

Moreover, the U.S., Russia and China will have elections this year to change their leadership, which adds more uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula, it said.

“The ministry will actively respond to uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula by strengthening ties with neighboring countries,” Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kim Sung-hwan told President Lee Myung-bak during the ministry’s 2012 policy briefing in Seoul.

“The ministry will put efforts to keep the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and make practical progress in the procedure of denuclearizing North Korea.”

The six-party nuclear talks -- involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan -- have been stalled since late 2008 but Seoul will try to induce a “change of attitude” in Pyongyang to resume the multilateral talk, a ministry official said.

Regarding whether South Korea would invite Kim Jong-un to the upcoming Seoul Nuclear Summit in March, Kim told reporters that it will, on the condition that North Korea fully implements denuclearization called on by the international community.

Another major goal for 2012 will be winning a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as the U.N. is to vote on the bid in October, he said.

South Korea previously sat on the council in 1996-1997 and it will be a second two-year term if winning the seat. The council is run by five veto-wielding permanent members and 10 non-permanent members with two-year terms.

With China, the foreign ministry will facilitate high-level bilateral talks in 2012, the year that the two countries mark 20th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, to stably manage diplomatic issues including fishing in the Yellow Sea.

With Japan, South Korea will first resolve issues related to South Korean women sex slaves who were forced to serve the Japanese military during World War II, the ministry said.

As for trade, South Korea will accelerate negotiations for a free trade deal with China, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam this year.

In March, South Korea will host the Seoul Nuclear Summit, drawing more than 50 heads of state and representatives of international organizations including the United Nations, IAEA, Interpol and the European Union, to discuss how to develop measures to prevent nuclear terrorism.

By Kim Yoon-mi