SEOUL: South Korea promised to step up efforts to defuse tension over North Korea’s nuclear programme yesterday amid a flurry of international diplomacy involving the United States and other regional powers.
President Kim Dae-jung called for an active South Korean role in trying to resolve the confrontation between the United States and North Korea.
“The two sides must resolve their dispute through talks and help North Korea become a responsible member of the international community,” Kim was quoted as saying by his spokesman, Park Sun-sook.
Earlier yesterday, South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said the nuclear issue was “a matter that affects the destiny of our people.”
“Therefore, we should actively search for a solution that can make all parties – South and North Korea and related countries – the winner,” Jeong said.
Jeong, whose ministry handles inter-Korean affairs, said his government would use upcoming inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks to urge North Korea to retract recent moves to restart its nuclear facilities.
The Cabinet talks, due to be held in the middle of this month, will provide the first opportunity for South Korea to directly raise the nuclear issue with the North.
South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong said his government was a bystander during an earlier crisis over the same North Korean facilities in 1993-94.
“We should learn a lesson from our experience with the 1993-1994 crisis,” he said. At that time, inter-Korean ties were at one of their lowest levels, and South Korea could not find any role to play.
In early December, North Korea alarmed the world by announcing it would reactivate its plutonium-based nuclear programme.
It has since removed monitoring seals and cameras from its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, expelled UN inspectors who had monitored those facilities and signalled that it may quit the global nuclear arms control treaty.
The United States promises to seek to resolve the issue peacefully, but North Korea’s communist leaders suspect that Washington may eventually use military force.
North Korea’s state media said the country would not give in to US pressure.
“As North Korea has a strong army. If the US tries to settle the issue by force, North Korea has no idea of avoiding it,” the government newspaper Minju Joson said in a report carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Seeing an opportunity in widespread anti-American sentiment in South Korea, North Korea has urged the South to prevent war by backing the North in its confrontation with the United States.
Thousands of South Koreans have taken part in recent weeks in anti-American protests triggered by the death of two teenage girls who were hit by a US military vehicle in June. – Reuters