(Yonhap Interview) Israeli envoy sees gradual change in N. Korea

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un has no choice but to gradually open up its economy, although change will not necessarily make Kim's regime safer, the departing Israeli ambassador to Seoul said Friday.

Decades of diplomatic efforts have failed to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, so in the long run, the best way of making the North less dangerous is helping ordinary North Koreans know about the outside world and what is happening in their own country, Israeli Ambassador Tuvia Israeli said.

In a farewell interview with Yonhap News Agency, the ambassador said, "I think it won't take much longer before there will be a change in North Korea.

"They will have to open themselves for economic reasons. With the inflow of foreign DVDs and other media sources, the North's young generation has more and more ideas of reality out of the country," said Israeli, who is set to return home after a four-year stint here.

Still, North Korea is one of the most closed societies in the world, but small signs have emerged that the regime's strict control of information is loosening. A U.S. government-funded study recently indicated a modest increase in the number of ordinary North Koreans who listened to foreign radio broadcasts and watched foreign DVDs.

The North's young leader Kim is being surrounded by octogenarian guardians and, when they are gone, Kim might choose a change, Israeli said.

"Changing the leadership will not happen overnight, because I don't see the possibility of an uprising or a military coup," he said. "I think the change will be gradual."

North Korea's nuclear saga is similar to Iran's, and Israel has considered a military option, saying the Islamic Republic has crossed a "red line."

The ambassador said, however, South Korea, the U.S. and the international community should rule out a possible military option to stop the North's nuclear ambition.

"North Korea is developing its nuclear program in order to secure the regime, while Iran is developing its nuclear program to destroy Israel," the ambassador said.

Israeli hailed China's recent moves to rein in North Korea.

China, the North's economic lifeline, has been taking an unusually tough stance on Pyongyang since the provocative regime pressed ahead with a long-range rocket launch in December and its third nuclear test in February.

"If they are going to lose an automatic support of China, they will have to think again before taking any threatening steps," Israeli said.

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