South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak today urged North Korea to drop its nuclear-weapon and missile ambitions and called for "unconditional" inter-Korean talks amid rising tensions. His remarks came as the communist North was defiantly preparing to test-launch what US and South Korean officials say is a long-range ballistic missile amid deadlocked nuclear disarmament talks. Pyongyang has also ratcheted cross-border tensions since declaring an "all-out confrontation" with Seoul, arguing over inter-Korean military borders.
"What really protects North Korea is not nuclear weapons and missiles, but co-operation with South Korea and with the international community," Mr Lee said in a speech marking the 90th anniversary of Koreans' civil uprising against the Japanese colonial rule. "Denuclearisation is a shortcut for North Korea to become a member of the international community and develop fast." Mr Lee repeated that Seoul was willing to help and talk with Pyongyang. "The door for unconditional dialogue is still open wide now. The South and the North should talk at an early date," he added. The North appears to have begun assembling a rocket which it claims will launch a satellite, Seoul's Yonhap news reported on Friday, despite US and South Korean warnings to halt what they see as a planned missile test. The launch may come in late March or early April, as a US-South Korean military exercise is scheduled for March 9-20 and a US-South Korea summit is in early April on the sidelines of the April 2 G-20 meeting, Yonhap said. US envoy Stephen Bosworth makes an Asian tour this coming week to try to revive stalled talks on the North's nuclear disarmament and agree on a strategy to deter any missile launch, officials in Washington said on Thursday. The North says it is determined to go ahead with what it calls a peaceful satellite launch but has given no date. "We will launch a satellite as planned," Kim Myong-Gil, a Pyongyang envoy to the United Nations, told South Korean journalists in Atlanta on Thursday. * AFP