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New North Korean leader; same old hostilities

December 30, 2011 |  3:39 am

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REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– With a flourish and wave of the hand, new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has started his reign, moving the regime from the era of “Dear Leader” to that of “Great Leader.”

The son of the late dictator Kim Jong Il has appeared before the adoring masses in Pyongyang, freshly bestowed with such fawning titles as “Great Successor,” “Supreme Leader” and the latest, “Great Leader.”

But while the names have changed, the secretive regime's belligerent policies -– particularly toward South Korea -– have apparently remained the same.

Pyongyang’s leadership Friday took renewed verbal shots at South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, a sign that its position toward Seoul would not radically change under Kim Jong Un, a 27-year-old neophyte power broker who is finding his legs as a ruler.

North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission threatened that it would never deal with Lee, a hardliner who came to power in 2008 on a platform of dealing more harshly with North Korea.

“As already declared, the [North] will have no dealings with the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors forever,” the commission said in a statement.

The statement, one of the first by the new regime as it emerged from an 11-day period of national mourning over Kim Jong Il’s death this month, signaled continuation of a diplomatic stalemate on the Korean peninsula.

In an apparent move to foster a better relationship with the North’s new leadership, Lee –- who leaves office next year –- said the South bears no hostility toward the North and expressed sympathy to the people of North Korea over Kim’s death.

The North’s commission accused South Korea of banning regular citizens from visiting Pyongyang to offer condolences and of seeking to drive a wedge between ordinary Koreans from the North and South. Seoul did not send an official mourning delegation to Pyongyang, allowing only two private delegations led by two high-profile women who have ties with North Korea.

“We will surely force the group of traitors to pay for its hideous crimes committed at the time of the great national misfortune,” said a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

And just in case other world capitals –- including Washington -– were listening, Pyongyang said that as far as it was concerned, it’s business as usual.  “We solemnly declare with confidence that the South Korean puppets and foolish politicians around the world should not expect any change” from North Korea, the statement said.

Seoul did not respond to the North’s newest declarations. But experts here said they were surprised that the honeymoon of apparent good will between North and South would be so short-lived.

"Many had hoped that North Korea would change their foreign policy with the rise of Kim Jong Un. But right now, it seems that they will continue Kim Jong Il's foreign policies and will show little flexibility,” said Lee Dong-bok, a senior associate at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“This time they have used a language that is 10 times harsher than before, and have taken a firm stance. The statement suggests they will keep on threatening the global community with nuclear weapons."

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-- John M. Glionna and Jung-yoon Choi

Photo: Kim Jong-Un, second from right, joins head of state Kim Yong-Nam, right, and others at the service in Pyongyang for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Credit: Associated Press

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