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Top SKorean official on NKorea defends inter-Korean projects in wake of nuclear test

Top SKorean official on NKorea defends inter-Korean projects in wake of nuclear test

South Korea's point man on dealings with North Korea defended Seoul's engagement with the communist nation Friday in the wake of its nuclear test, saying it did not appear the North was readying for another blast.
"There are no signs of North Korea preparing for a second nuclear test," Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said in a speech to European business leaders in Seoul. "The North will be careful to avoid taking steps that would aggravate the current situation."
Lee denied South Korean investments in joint projects _ including an industrial zone and tourism project in North Korea _ had been diverted to the North's nuclear weapons programs, as some critics allege could have occurred. He said such arguments were based on "unidentified assumptions."
The projects are part of the unprecedented reconciliation between the two Koreas since their leaders held a summit in 2000.
"If we want to induce North Korea to open and to be integrated into the world economy, criticizing the normal transactions without grounds would get us nowhere," Lee said.
Despite the political hurdles such as the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test, Lee noted that cooperation between the two Koreas had actually increased in the past year.
"Even though inter-Korean relations have suffered setbacks as a result of the North Korean nuclear test, the flow of exchanges and cooperation between the North and South has continued and even expanded," Lee said.
For example, he said cross-border trips by ship between the Koreas had more than doubled to 8,400 times last year, with trade between North and South also up 27 percent to US$1.4 billion (