South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations on September 21, 2009. Lee offered the North aid and security guarantees if it abandons its nuclear weapons program. (Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)
BBC News reports that South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has offered aid and security guarantees if Pyongyang calls it quits on its nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has met separately with the South Korean and Japanese Foreign Ministers to discuss the simmering issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions. China has said that the North is prepared for new dialogue, but Clinton and her counterparts have agreed caution is needed in further dealings with the belligerent state.
Lee criticizes "six-party talks"
South Korea's President has stressed the need to "fundamentally resolve the North Korea nuclear issue." Lee criticized the failure of the six-party talks involving the U.S., Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and both Korean governments to either resolve the tension or bring North Korea to task and end its nuclear weapons program.
"We compensated [the North Koreans] for agreeing to freeze their program, and we compensated them for not keeping their promises," Lee said in a statement.
Lee's proposal includes basic provisions of the previous format, including security guarantees as well as the oil the North desperately needs, if it halts its nuclear program. Lee said that accepting his tougher stance was "the only way for North Korea to ensure its own survival."
A checkered pattern of confrontations and dialogue with the North Koreans are cause for concern and caution
The tension over North Korea's nuclear ambitions have crested and ebbed interchangeably, particularly in recent years as the isolationist dictatorship was spotlighted as part of the "axis of evil" in a 2002 State of the Union address by then-President George W. Bush. The impoverished country continues to suffer from a massive famine in the 1990s, taking advantage of the aid offered by the international community as an additional bargaining chip in negotiating over its nuclear program.
The six-party talks alternated between cooperation and sanctions before they broke down altogether in April 2009, and North Korea sent another pair of mixed messages by announcing it was in the final stages of nuclear weaponization weeks after inviting the U.S. to renew talks.
Analysts cited by BBC News have opined that Lee intends to bolster his image at home as a hardliner who will not compromise South Korea's safety to appease North Korean aggressors. After Clinton's discussions with the South Korean and Japanese delegates, Kurt Campbell, the U.S. envoy for the Koreas, said Washington would approach Pyongyang with caution.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is due to visit North Korea in October, a trip Campbell hopes may set the road to dialogue and resolution with the North back on track. Campbell said China is expected "to take a fairly clear line" about resuming negotiations in the old six-party framework, though both Japan and South Korea have implied they would not oppose being unilaterally represented by the U.S. in future talks with North Korea.