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South Korean president urges dialogue with Pyongyang

South Korea's president on Saturday called for dialogue with North Korea, urged Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programme and offered to restart aid so both Koreas could find ways to thrive.

world Updated: Aug 15, 2009 16:09 IST

South Korea's president on Saturday called for dialogue with North Korea, urged Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programme and offered to restart aid so both Koreas could find ways to thrive.

He promised to help North Korea if it gives up its nuclear programme after his government has virtually cut off all its economic and energy aid to the impoverished North, which alarmed the world this year with a nuclear test, a series of missile launches and threats against its neighbour.

"Nuclear weapons are not a guarantee of North Korea's safety," President Lee Myung Bak said. "They only cloud North Korea's future. I'd like to urge North Korea to engage in a heart-to-heart dialogue with us to discuss ways on how North Korea can give up its nuclear programme. We'd like to find a way North Korea could defend itself and how both Koreas can prosper together."

Lee's speech came amid tension that has choked dialogue between the two neighbours and was made on Independence Day when Korea was freed from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule.

"If North Korea shows us it intends (to do so), our government will pursue a new peace initiative," he said. "We will actively carry out an international cooperation programme designed to develop North Korea's economy and improve the quality of life for the North Korean people drastically.

"We will carry out a package of projects to develop North Korea in five areas - the economy, education, finance, infrastructure and living standards - through international cooperation," said Lee, who leads Asia's fourth-largest economy alongside North Korea, one of the globe's poorest countries.

Lee also proposed a dialogue to discuss a reduction of the conventional weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

"Nowhere else in the world is there such a place where such a heavy concentration of military weapons and manpower is located and has persisted for half a century," he said of the two countries' border, created at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. "If both Koreas reduce their conventional weapons and military manpower, we both would be able to save huge budget costs."

After inter-Korean relations blossomed under Lee's two liberal predecessors' "Sunshine Policy", they have frozen under the conservative's tenure, which began in February 2008.

"I'd like to make it clear that the Seoul government is ready to start dialogue and cooperation with North Korea on all of the issues, whenever or at which level it may be," Lee said.

The call for dialogue came two days after North Korea freed a South Korean employee at the countries' joint industrial park at a North Korean border town after detaining him March 30 for allegedly criticising North Korea's regime.

Hyeon Jung Eun, head of the Hyundai Motor Co, where the man works, travelled Monday to Pyongyang to discuss the release of her employee and to revive a stalled tourism project at Mount Kumgang in North Korea as well as the troubled joint industrial park. It was uncertain whether she would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Il before returning home Saturday afternoon.

North Korea released two American reporters last week after a surprise visit by former US president Bill Clinton, who held talks with Kim.