South Korea's president is promising massive aid to North Korea if the communist state gives up its nuclear weapons program. President Roh Moo-hyun made the promise in a speech in which he urged Pyongyang not to squander the latest opportunity to settle the crisis that has occupied world attention since last October.
President Roh's appeal to North Korea came in a nationally-televised speech marking the 58th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
The South Korean leader says North Korea should not miss the opportunity to settle the nuclear crisis at upcoming six-way talks in Beijing.
The two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China, Russia are scheduled to take part in three days of talks scheduled to begin in the Chinese capital on August 27.
President Roh said if North Korea abandons its nuclear ambitions, Seoul is prepared to take the lead in helping rebuild the North's devastated economy, and will help persuade other nations and international organizations to provide aid as well.
Mr. Roh warned that if North Korea continues with its nuclear ambitions, the country would become more isolated, and the region would face prolonged crisis.
South Korea's enticement to the North contrasts with Washington's stance. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States will not offer economic assistance as an incentive for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. The Bush Administration has said it will provide assistance to the North only after the nuclear program has been dismantled.
South Korean, Japanese and U.S. officials this week held two days of talks in Washington in preparation for the upcoming multilateral talks. A flurry of diplomatic activity has also taken place in East Asian capitals and in Moscow over the previous week. Tensions escalated last October when it was revealed that Pyongyang had admitted pursuing a secret uranium enrichment program, in violation of a 1994 bilateral accord. North Korea subsequently ejected U.N. nuclear inspectors and withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Since then Pyongyang has said it has reprocessed thousands of spent fuel rods at a nuclear plant.
In his Liberation Day speech at the independence memorial hall in Cheonan, 90 kilometers south of Seoul, Mr. Roh said the North Korean nuclear issue must be settled peacefully at all costs.
The president expressed support for a proposed redeployment of U.S. troops already in South Korea, as long as it does not weaken their military capability. He also said South Korea should gradually reduce its heavy dependence on the U.S. military for its defense.
Noting that the country has become the world's 12th largest economy, Mr. Roh said it is about time South Korea "took responsibility for defending ourselves."
The United States maintains some 37,000 troops in South Korea. There were both anti and pro-U.S. demonstrations in the streets of Seoul on Thursday.