South Korea, Japan harden stand on North Korea
* Seoul says nuclear accord with Pyongyang still valid
SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday it was prepared to squeeze North Korea economically over the nuclear crisis while Japan also indicated it was shifting to a harder line against the Stalinist state.
Top South Korean officials said that North Korea risked losing the benefits from economic cooperation with Seoul if it escalated the seven-month-old standoff over its nuclear weapons drive.
At the same time the Japanese government’s top spokesman said Tokyo might suspend remittances to North Korea worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Until now, South Korea and Japan have insisted that a peaceful, diplomatic solution be found to the nuclear crisis and both countries have expressed deep reservations about the imposition of economic sanctions. But officials outlined a tougher stand in testimony before the National Assembly as a delegation from Seoul headed to Pyongyang for four days of economic talks.
Prime Minister Goh Kun said that henceforth inter-Korean exchanges would depend on North Korea’s conduct in the standoff with the United States over its nuclear weapons drive.
South Korea will abide by a joint statement signed by President Roh Moo-Hyun and US President George Bush in Washington last week in which inter-Korean exchanges were linked to the nuclear crisis and which referred to the need for “further steps” if the crisis deepened.
Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun, also addressing the National Assembly, reinforced the message that North Korea would pay a price for further escalation of the nuclear crisis. He said those North Korean steps could include preparations for possible missile launches, serious military provocation or the regime declaring the completion of nuclear fuel reprocessing.
“In that case we will work out proper countermeasures through cooperation with the United States and Japan,” he said. President Roh said, however, that humanitarian aid to the impoverished North would continue unaffected by the crisis.
South Korea said Monday a decade-old agreement with North Korea to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons was still in force a week after the Stalinist state declared it dead.
“The official position of our government is that the denuclearisation agreement is still valid,” said Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun, referring to the 1992 North-South pact to keep the peninsula nuclear weapons-free.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a May 13 dispatch the agreement was dead and blamed Washington for killing it off.
“I don’t think North Korea has officially declared the scrapping of the agreement,” Jeong said in testimony to the National Assembly here.
“If you read North Korea’s statement carefully, you will know that North Korean authorities have not scrapped the agreement.”
Meanwhile, North Korea demanded an apology and dismissed as a smear campaign South Korean reports that a close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il had defected to the United States.
South Korean media reports said Kil Jae-Gyong, vice director of Kim’s secretariat, had defected through a third country to the United States.
However, the Korean News Agency said Kim has died of illness three years ago and was buried in Pyongyang. —-AFP