South Korea’s president said he plans to make many concessions to communist North Korea and provide it with unconditional aid in an effort to build trust, his office said Wednesday.
Roh Moo-hyun made the announcement as his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, prepared to visit the North to meet with its leader, Kim Jong Il, in hopes that the trip might lead to a breakthrough in stalled six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“I’m going to make a lot of concessions (to North Korea),” Roh told South Korean residents during a visit to Mongolia on Tuesday, according to a transcript provided by the presidential office.
“I’m going to provide institutional and material aid without conditions,” he said.
Roh said the South, which is wealthier and has a stronger military, should make concessions to dispel the mistrust that still exists between the two neighbors more than five decades after the bloody 1950-53 Korean War.
Roh’s comments were “an expression of will that the (South Korean) government should play a more active role in finding a breakthrough on the current stalled situation,” Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told reporters Wednesday.
Although the two Koreas technically remain at war, they made strides toward reconciliation after a 2000 summit between South Korean President Kim and the North Korean leader. South Korea has become one of the main aid providers to the impoverished North and launched several economic development projects.
Nuclear standoff snarls relations
However, the two Koreas’ relations have been affected by the international standoff over the North’s nuclear program, with the South joining forces with other nations in pressuring the communist regime to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Roh said he has high expectations for Kim’s planned June trip to the North, because it could provide a chance for a “flexible dialogue” with Kim Jong Il.
Roh also indicated a desire to hold his own meeting with the North Korean leader.
“I’m completely open to North Korea,” he said. “I’ve said dozens of times that let’s meet and talk regardless of where, when and what topic.”
How to deal with North Korea is often a source of discord between Seoul and Washington.
Recently, the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, Jay Lefkowitz, raised concern that a joint Korean project to build an industrial park in North Korea may help its hard-line communist government.
Seoul, which cherishes the project as a symbol of inter-Korean detente, has heavily criticized the U.S. official for putting forward “distorted views.”
On Tuesday, the unification minister said the South will try to make the project a success “no matter what difficulties are ahead.”