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South Korean Intelligence Chief is Latest to Offer Resignation in Looming Security Shuffle


South Korea's intelligence chief is the latest cabinet member to tender his resignation, in what is looking like a serious shakeup of President Roh Moo-hyun's national security policy staff. The resignations come in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test on October 9.

A spokesman for South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Friday that Kim Seung-kyu, Seoul's director of national intelligence, has offered to resign.

Kim is the third senior security official this week to tender his resignation in the wake of Pyongyang's nuclear test.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung and Unification Minister Lee Jeong-seok have also tendered their resignations. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon will leave soon to take up his new position as United Nations secretary-general.

Unification Minister Lee's main responsibility has been implementing President Roh's policy of economic cooperation and engagement with North Korea. Under that policy, massive amounts of aid and money have been transferred to the North in hopes of persuading it not to develop nuclear weapons.

Lee, intelligence director Kim and other officials have been sharply criticized in South Korea since the nuclear test, with critics saying the engagement policy has been a mistake.

After his offer to resign was announced, Lee apologized for not having headed off the North's test, and said the political backlash has made it impossible for him to stay in office.

Lee says since North Korea's nuclear test, all of his efforts to deal with the North have been indiscriminately attacked and politicized. In that context, he says it is best for someone else to assume his position.

President Roh, whose term ends after elections scheduled for December of next year, is clinging to the principle of engagement with the North, even though his government has acknowledged that changes have to be made.

Kim Byung-ki, an international relations scholar at Seoul's Korea University, says Mr. Roh is coming under pressure from his own Uri Party to adjust how that policy is carried out.

"The more realistic wing of the ruling party considers that it's a failed policy, and this will have serious political problems," Kim said. "And what you're seeing in terms of the reshuffle is really to hold on to the last year of the 'lame duck,' to make it maximally advantageous for the President to be able to direct the political outcome."

Senior officials in the presidential office say there is good chance the three resignations will be accepted. They say changes will probably come when a replacement is named for Foreign Minister Ban, who is scheduled to depart for the United Nations by the end of the year.

South Korean political analysts say, however, that a reshuffle is unlikely to change Seoul's basic commitment to maintaining contact with the North. Local news media are already speculating that some of the ministers who are resigning may resurface very soon, in other high-level positions.

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