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Korean Peninsula Undergoing 'Tremendous Changes', Says Kim Dae-jung - 2002-09-25

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung says North and South Korea must take active steps to support what he called "tremendous changes" taking place on the divided peninsula. Mr. Kim says the South will need to help the North reform its collapsed economy and the North will have to abandon its drive to develop weapons of mass destruction for there to be Korean reconciliation and peace in the region.

President Kim Dae-jung returned from a Denmark summit of Asian and European leaders Wednesday intent on moving Korean reconciliation forward during the last months of his presidency.

Speaking to reporters upon his return to Seoul, Mr. Kim said the South Korea must support bold new initiatives in the North to reform its dilapidated centralized economy.

Earlier this month Pyongyang created a special economic zone, its latest experiment with market capitalism, as part of unprecedented reforms initiated July.

This is just one in a series of surprising moves undertaken in recent months by the normally reclusive, communist North that has prompted Mr. Kim to describe the Korean Peninsula as a place of "tremendous change."

Pyongyang has re-engaged in a series of long-stalled talks with the South, held a summit with Japan on removing obstacles to establishing diplomatic ties and signaled it was willing to have a dialogue with long-time foe, the United States.

But the South Korean President said Wednesday that if Pyongyang really wants to improve its relations with the world, then its must take another crucial step.

Mr. Kim says if North Korea stops clinging to a program to develop weapons of mass destruction, then peace in the region and between the Koreas could progress dramatically.

Mr. Kim says he will be working with President Bush on this issue since relations between Pyongyang and Washington are pivotal to better inter-Korean ties.

The South Korean leader has made engaging the North the centerpiece of his five-year presidency, which ends in February. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, which included an unprecedented inter-Korean Summit in June 2000, in which both countries pledged to work toward reunification.

But the engagement policy began to unravel when President Bush came into office and took a tougher approach to North Korea, partly prompting Pyongyang to withdraw from confidence-building projects with the South until recent months.

Washington maintains that North Korea is a part of an axis of evil nations intent on building weapons of mass destruction while its people starve. But the United States says it does want to hold broad security talks with the North.