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South Korean President Promises Robust Economic Plan, 'Consistent' Approach to Nuclear Issue

  • Kurt Achin

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun downplayed announcements by Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons in his annual policy speech and pledged to hold a steady course in relations with North Korea. Mr. Roh focused mainly on the economy.

President Roh Moo-hyun says he will stick to what he calls a "consistent but flexible" approach to the North Korean nuclear issue.

Mr. Roh says he does not believe that North Korea's announcements earlier this month about its nuclear programs brought any fundamental changes to the situation.

Pyongyang said it was pulling out of six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions. It also said it had nuclear weapons and would make more. Since then, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has indicated talks might be possible.

In his annual policy address Friday, Mr. Roh did not directly refer to the nuclear talks, which also involve Japan, China, Russia and the United States. However, he did describe Seoul's relationship with the United States as "more stable than ever." At the same time, he indicated South Korea would take a larger role in providing its own defense over the next 10 years.

Mr. Roh's government has been trying to engage with the country's isolated neighbor, using diplomacy and economic enticements to encourage North Korea to open more to the world and give up its nuclear ambitions.

In an indirect reference to North Korea, Mr. Roh said it is a common strategy in diplomacy to look for conflict and division on the other side.

North Korea has often demanded one-on-one talks with the United States. The Bush administration has refused, saying South Korea and its neighbors must not be excluded in resolving the nuclear issue.

The opposition Grand National Party expressed disappointment at Mr. Roh's comments of the nuclear issue. A party statement calls Mr. Roh's approach to North Korea too complacent and passive, and says the party expected much more from his address.

The majority of Mr. Roh's assignments address was focused on South Korea's economy, and his vision of what he calls "Advanced Korea."

The president promises to tackle joblessness by making it easier for small and medium enterprises to be competitive.

He said South Korea's economy would become more market-friendly as a whole, with less government intervention. He also promised to devote special attention to developing the country's knowledge-based industries, including financial services, technology, and tourism and travel.