President Lee Myung-bak Urges North Korea to Drop Nuke Program
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on archrival North Korea on April 12 to dismantle its nuclear weapons development program, which he described as a direct threat to the capitalist South.
Lee made the call during the opening dinner of the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit, which was initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama and attracted the heads of state from more than 40 countries and the representatives from the U.N., IAEA, and the EU. North Korea was not invited.
Held in Washington on April 12-13, the summit was aimed at boosting international cooperation in securing the peaceful use of atomic energy and preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Participants took turns to make opening remarks during the dinner focused on "reviewing the threats of nuclear terrorism and discussing response."
Urging Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions, Lee said South Korea is "more concerned about nuclear weapons threats than any other nation as it is directly exposed to North Korea's nuclear threats," according to Lee's office, Cheong Wa Dae.
Lee pointed out that atomic power is a double-edged sword, as it can be beneficial if used peacefully as clean energy but can also cause a catastrophe if turned into weapons.
"With regard to the North Korean nuclear issue, President Lee stressed that the (South Korean) government is making active efforts to prevent North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons on the basis of cooperation among the member countries in the six-way talks," his office said.
North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003. The reclusive nation conducted two underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but the international community does not recognize it as a nuclear power.
North Korea has boycotted the six-party talks since early last year due to U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests. Pyongyang recently demanded an end to the sanctions and the opening of talks for a peace treaty as a precondition to return to the talks, which involves the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
In a televised speech after South Korea was chosen on April 13 as the host of the next global summit on nuclear security in 2012, President Lee expressed high hopes for the nuclear security summit.
"If this summit is held successfully, it would serve as the first step toward mankind's dream of a nuclear-free world," Lee said. "This is a historic meeting, and there is a special meaning for a place like the Korean Peninsula, (which is) facing nuclear threat," he emphasized, apparently referring to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Lee said the socialist nation, together with Iran, has not been invited to the summit in Washington due to lack of transparency in its nuclear programs.
"I hope that North Korea will show a firm will to abandon its nuclear program through the six-way talks over the next two years and rejoin the NPT and comply with existing agreements. Then I will be willing to invite it (to the 2012 summit)," Lee told reporters.
South Korea has faithfully abided by nonproliferation-related norms, including the NPT. It has operated 20 nuclear reactors nationwide that meet 40 percent of the country's total energy demands, and there have been no accidents during South Korea's 32 years of operating nuclear power stations.
The U.S. and the other nations also seem to have taken into account the strategic importance of the Korean Peninsula in the global campaign for a nuclear-free world as North Korea threatens to bolster its nuclear arsenal, Cheong Wa Dae added.
It also noted Washington's active support. "It reflects the close alliance between South Korea and the U.S. and deep trust and cooperative relations between the leaders of the two nations," Cheong Wa Dae said. "The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit will serve as an important chance to closely review the international attention and will for nuclear security created through the summit in Washington this time."
Meanwhile, Obama called on North Korea on April 13 to return to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions, warning the U.S. will continue imposing sanctions on Pyongyang
"Sanctions are not a magic wand," Obama told reporters in a news conference to wrap up the summit. "Unfortunately, nothing in international relations is. But I do think that the approach that we've taken, with respect to North Korea, makes it more likely for them to alter their behavior than had there been no consequences whatsoever to them testing a nuclear weapon."
Obama was confident that the sanctions are taking effect on the impoverished communist state, citing cooperation with Russia and China. China is the North's staunchest communist ally, serving as a lifeline with the provision of most energy, food and other necessities.
He noted "a serious sanctions regime that was passed when North Korea flouted its obligations towards the NPT -- it's a sign of the degree to which international diplomacy is making it more possible for us to isolate those countries that are breaking their international obligations."
"It is our hope that as pressure builds for North Korea -- to improve its economic performance, for example, to break out of that isolation -- that we'll see a return to the six-party talks and that we will see a change in behavior," he said, lamenting "North Korea has chosen a path of severe isolation that has been extraordinarily damaging to its people."