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S. Korea Opposition Leader: Seoul Should Talk Tougher to North

  • Kurt Achin

The head of South Korea's main opposition party says Seoul should make clear to Pyongyang that continuing with its nuclear weapons programs will have consequences. She criticized the Seoul government for downplaying major issues in its effort not to offend the North.

Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of South Korea's opposition Grand National Party, says Seoul should be speaking more bluntly to Pyongyang.

"On issues such as South Korean prisoners of war and abductees, separated families and North Korean refugees, we should say what needs to be said, and North Korea must honor its promises," she said.

She says President Roh Moo-hyun is failing to make Pyongyang aware of the consequences of retaining its disputed nuclear weapons programs.

"The five parties also need to state very concretely what harsh disincentives would follow, should North Korea forge ahead with its nuclear development," she said.

The five parties, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the United States, have been trying to coax Pyongyang back to talks about its weapons programs. Pyongyang has been boycotting the talks for a year.

Ms. Park, speaking to reporters Monday, declined to specify what "disincentives" she or her party would support. Washington has said options, such as United Nations involvement and sanctions, might be necessary.

Roh administration officials say North Korea should be offered security and economic incentives, in return for giving up those programs. They say it is too early to discuss punitive measures. President Roh's Uri Party says its policy of engaging North Korea is more effective than confrontation.

Gang Il-huh, a policy-maker at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, says using a confrontational tone with North Korea has failed in the past.

Mr. Gang said, because of the sensitive and unique inter-Korean relationship, more can be accomplished through engagement than brinkmanship.

Uri party members point to last week's agreement between the two Koreas to schedule wide-ranging talks in the months ahead, as proof their strategy is working.

But Ms. Park says progress is too slow. "The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through peaceful diplomatic measures still remains distant," she said.

The Grand National Party has been a minority party here since it was dealt a stinging defeat in April 2004. Many younger voters view the party as a legacy of South Korea's authoritarian military regimes, which lasted until the 1980s.

Ms. Park says her party supports South Korean humanitarian aid to the impoverished North, but says the Roh administration is turning a blind eye to Pyongyang's policies.

Hundreds of South Koreans are believed to have been abducted by the North since the 1950s war on the peninsula. And while the two countries have held reunions for families separated by the war, Ms. Park's party says, Seoul should push for more, while aging family members are still alive.

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