(Yonhap Interview) NK-inter-Korean relations

By Park Boram

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- Bellicose threats and actions by Pyongyang represent just an intermediate step with the country eventually taking the path toward an open-door economic policy stance, a North Korean defector and expert on the communist country said Thursday. The country will soon tone down its warlike rhetoric program in order to open relations with the outside world, he said.

Despite weeks of threats to launch nuclear attacks on the South and the U.S., "the North, at heart, wants to spread the market (system) and stabilize its power," An Chan-il, a political science professor at Chungang University, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. An earned his Ph.D. with his thesis on North Korea's political ideology after defecting from the communist country in 1979 and settling in the South. He was a North Korean soldier before coming to the South.

An said the North's current warlike mode, the first of its kinds after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011, is a vital step needed to tighten control of the country and enhance its bargaining position vis-a-vis the new Park Geun-hye administration in the South. He argued once this is accomplished the North will turn around and move to implement long-established plans to bring about economic growth and bolster its nuclear capacities. The cash-strapped country needs investment from the outside world in order to finance various economic projects. The country often used its nuclear arsenal as leverage to win financial, food or energy aid from the international community,

"At heart, the North wants to resume the Mt Kumgang tour program with the South," An said, citing sources he refused to disclose. "I assume once the North's (warlike rhetoric) programs end, the Kumgang tour program may start to resume in May on demand from the North," he said. Park may allow the resumption as part of her signature "trust-building" policy toward North Korea, according to the expert.

The tour program has been suspended since a South Korean tourist was shot dead in 2008. Before this the scenic mountains served as one of the country's cash cows.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are escalating as the North took on a bellicose mode following its long-range rocket launch in December and third nuclear test on Feb. 12. The North has ratcheted up its military threats following the joint South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve military drill in March and two United Nations' resolutions designed to punish the North for its nuclear activities.

In line with the warlike stance, the North recently nullified the Armistice Agreement, which halted the 1950-53 Korean War, and put its military into the top combat readiness posture. On Wednesday, the North also banned South Korean workers entering the Kaesong Industrial Park, the only-remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation and one of the major foreign-currency sources for the country.

An said North Korea's socialist system will go on the course to take the inevitable path toward a more market-oriented economy, indicating that Kim may first try to secure the survival of its regime through its nuclear arms before pursuing its economic building ambitions.

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