Seoul urges NKorea to drop nuclear plans

March 1, 2009 12:00 am

, SEOUL, March 1- South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak Sunday urged North Korea to drop its nuclear-weapon and missile ambitions, and called for "unconditional" inter-Korean talks amid rising tensions.

His remarks came as the communist North was defiantly preparing to test-launch what US and South Korean officials say is a long-range ballistic missile, amid deadlocked nuclear disarmament talks.

Pyongyang has also ratcheted cross-border tensions since declaring an "all-out confrontation" with Seoul, arguing over inter-Korean military borders.

"What really protects North Korea is not nuclear weapons and missiles, but cooperation with South Korea and with the international community," Lee said in a speech marking the 90th anniversary of Koreans’ civil uprising against the Japanese colonial rule.

"Denuclearisation is a shortcut for North Korea to become a member of the international community and develop fast."

Lee repeated that Seoul was willing to help and talk with Pyongyang.

"The door for unconditional dialogue is still open wide now. The South and the North should talk at an early date," he added.

The North appears to have begun assembling a rocket which it claims will launch a satellite, Seoul’s Yonhap news reported Friday, despite US and South Korean warnings to halt what they see as a planned missile test.

The launch may come in late March or early April, as a US-South Korean military exercise is scheduled for March 9-20 and a US-South Korea summit in early April on the sidelines of the April 2 G-20 meeting, Yonhap said.

US envoy Stephen Bosworth makes an Asian tour this week to try to revive stalled talks on the North’s nuclear disarmament and agree on a strategy to deter any missile launch, officials in Washington said Thursday.

The North says it is determined to go ahead with what it calls a peaceful satellite launch but has given no date.

"We will launch a satellite as planned," Kim Myong-Gil, a Pyongyang envoy to the United Nations, told South Korean journalists in Atlanta Thursday.

"Launching a satellite is part of a sovereign right which is universal. We’ve been exercising our sovereign right and will continue to do so. This cannot be negotiable," Kim was quoted as saying.

Seoul and Washington say Pyongyang is seeking a pretext to test a Taepodong-2 missile which could theoretically reach Alaska, warning that any North Korean rocket launch would violate a UN resolution.

The North test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998 and also fired a longer-range Taepodong-2 in 2006. The 2006 test failed after 40 seconds but resulted sanctions under the UN resolution. The North tested an atomic weapon in 2006.

The North is angry at conservative Lee, whose government has scrapped his predecessors’ policy of reconciliation and exchange with Pyongyang.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Rodong Sinmun, the North’s communist party daily, Sunday denounced this month’s US-South Korean military exercise as a preparation to invade the communist state. It warned of a "merciless" strike by Pyongyang in case of war.


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