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SKorean leader tells North to stop nuclear drive, start talks

AFP | June 13, 2005

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun on Monday appealed to North Korea to decide now to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in return for rewards and regime security.

In his first public comments since a summit with US President George W. Bush three days ago, the South Korean leader said North Korea had no time to lose.

"Now is the time for North Korea to make a decision," Roh said in a speech to a seminar here marking the fifth anniversary of a watershed inter-Korean summit on June 15, 2000.

"North Korea should make a strategic decision of abandoning its nuclear program to lay the groundwork for the stabilization of its regime and economic development."

Senior US officials have indicated in recent weeks that time was running out for North Korea to return to six-party talks, in limbo since June last year.

But South Korean officials denied that sanctions had been discussed at the summit or a deadline had been set for North Korea to return to the talks.

"The focus was that we should concentrate on peaceful and diplomatic efforts," Kim Sook, a senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, said in an interview with MBC radio.

Roh's summit with Bush apparently left open the question of what the two allies should do if North Korea continues its year-old boycott of six-party talks after three inconclusive rounds bringing together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

As Roh spoke, a small group of demonstrators demanding a tougher line on North Korea ripped up the North Korean flag outside the US embassy here.

Washington has indicated that it may pursue other options than dialogue. Although military action is unlikely measures could include tightening sanctions against the regime or even referring it to the UN Security Council.

However, Bush and Roh reaffirmed the drive to resolve the nuclear standoff through diplomatic means and did not discuss other options, according to South Korean officials.

North Korea has said it would only return to the talks if Washington dropped its "hostile" policy towards Pyongyang.

Roh said North Korea should pay more attention to President Bush's pledge that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea.

He was speaking at a seminar to commemorate his predecessor Kim Dae-Jung's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang five years ago when the two Koreas pledged to improve inter-Korean relations.

Washington is offering Pyongyang a security guarantee, economic aid and improved bilateral relations if it agrees to scrap its nuclear weapons drive, he said.

North Korea in February declared itself nuclear-armed and last month announced it had unloaded some 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, a move that could allow it to produce more weapons-grade plutonium.

The standoff began in October 2002 when Washington accused Pyongyang of secretly running a separate uranium-enrichment program. North Korea responded by expelling UN nuclear inspectors and withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.


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