South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says his country will maintain "friendly relations" with North Korea for the sake of security, despite the North's nuclear test last month. His comments come as government officials elsewhere stress the importance of maintaining pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told international executives in Seoul Thursday that regardless of era or regime, South Korea must pursue a "peace strategy" toward the North.
Mr. Roh says because his country places top priority on peace for the Korean peninsula, it will have to maintain what he described as "friendly relations" with the North.
The remarks are the latest indication Mr. Roh will cling to the fundamentals of his "engagement policy" with Pyongyang. Since the North conducted a barrage of missile tests in July, and its first nuclear weapons test last month, that policy has been sharply criticized as a failure.
Critics say Seoul has been too lenient and uncritical toward Pyongyang in handing over billions of dollars in aid and investment.
Mr. Roh's comments come even as other nations pledge to maintain pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Following the nuclear test, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for punitive sanctions on the North.
Pyongyang agreed Tuesday to return to long-dormant six-party talks on its nuclear programs, but there is fear the North Koreans will only use the talks to delay implementation of the U.N. sanctions.
The U.S. ambassador to Seoul, Alexander Vershbow, called on all nations Thursday to keep up the pressure on the North by pushing ahead with the sanctions.
China, one of North Korea's most important donor nations, indicated later in the day that it would do just that.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jinchao says the U.N. sanctions resolution is the consensus of the international community, and each country has a duty to implement it strictly and responsibly.
South Korean President Roh's remarks, however, and several key cabinet appointments announced Wednesday, suggest that he still intends to refrain from placing too much pressure on Pyongyang.
He designated several close political allies as new members of his national security and foreign policy team, including the defense and unification ministers and the national intelligence chief. He also named his national security advisor to replace Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who will soon leave to become United Nations secretary-general.
Paik Jin-hyun, an international relations scholar at Seoul National University, says Mr. Roh's cabinet choices have opened him up to more criticism. He says the appointments show President Roh is insistent on business as usual with the North, and expresses doubt that the new cabinet will help Seoul overcome its security challenges.
Opposition party spokesman Na Gyung-won was even more blunt Thursday in her reaction to the appointments. She says the choices are a three-way disappointment: to the opposition, to Mr. Roh's Uri Party, and to the South Korean people.