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South Korean president-elect to propose compromise on North Korea's nuclear issue

Updated:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korean President-elect Roh Moon-hyun will offer a compromise that requires both North Korea and the United States to accept concessions to resolve the standoff over the communist state's nuclear program, an aide said Friday.

Roh hopes his proposal will resolve the dispute before he takes office Feb. 25, Lim Chae-jung, head of the presidential transition team, said on SBS-TV. Roh will meet President Bush soon after the inauguration.

``The president-elect plans to present his own solution around the middle of this month,'' said Lim. It would require both Bush and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to make concessions, Lim said.

Lim declined to elaborate but said Roh is taking ``a very cautious approach'' because it is ``a matter that affects the destiny of our people.''

Shim Yoon-joe, head of the North American affairs department in the Foreign Ministry, said on the YTN network that North Korea should first decide to scrap its nuclear weapons program for dialogue with the United States.

``If North Korea makes its position clear on its uranium-based nuclear weapons program and announces its willingness to scrap it, that can set the stage for dialogue with the United States,'' he said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that one proposal under study will require North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a written guarantee of security from the United States.

``The starting point of any solution should be North Korea publicly stating a willingness to scrap its nuclear weapons program,'' Yonhap quoted a South Korean Foreign Ministry official as saying.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the news agency that the U.S. position is that it would never accept a treaty with North Korea that would require congressional ratification.

South Korea plans to present its final proposal at meetings with the United States and Japan to be held in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, Yonhap said.

The government wouldn't immediately comment on the agency report.

The standoff began in early December, when North Korea decided to reactivate its nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States. It has removed monitoring seals and cameras from its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, expelled U.N. inspectors and signaled it may quit the global nuclear arms control treaty.

The North says it is willing to resolve concerns over its nuclear program if the United States signs a nonaggression treaty, but Washington rules out any talks before the North changes course.

Bush on Thursday sharply rebuked North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, saying he has ``no heart for somebody who starves his folks.'' Bush said, however, he remains confident of a peaceful solution to the deadlock.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer, supports dialogue to resolve the dispute. He believes military force or economic sanctions could backfire and result in catastrophe.

The border between the two Koreas is the world's most heavily militarized, with more than 2 million troops massed on both sides. Millions of people were killed or injured in the 1950-53 Korean War. About 37,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in South Korea.

On Thursday, the North's state media said the country would not bend to U.S. pressure.

``If the U.S. tries to settle the issue with DPRK by force, DPRK has no idea of avoiding it,'' the North's government newspaper, Minju Joson, said. DPRK, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is North Korea's official name.

Seoul has stepped up its diplomacy and plans to use upcoming inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks to urge North Korea to stop efforts to restart its nuclear facilities.

The meetings, the highest channels of dialogue between the two sides, would provide the first opportunity for South Korea to directly raise the nuclear issue with the North. No date has been set for the meetings due to be held in Seoul around mid-January.

Deputy South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyung left for Moscow Friday to seek Russia's help in a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov on Sunday.

On Thursday, South Korea claimed critical Chinese support in its drive to speed diplomacy to end the crisis.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed in Beijing that their countries would try to resolve North Korea's nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue, a senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

``The two sides will work to prevent the situation from further aggravating,'' said Shin Jung-seung, director of the ministry's Asia-Pacific affairs section.

The U.S. State Department said senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials would meet next Monday and Tuesday in Washington to coordinate policy on North Korea.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly was to head to South Korea and other Asian nations afterward for further talks, spokesman Richard Boucher said.

At the United Nations, diplomats said Beijing wanted to deal privately with the situation through diplomatic channels rather than bringing it to the Security Council where Chinese diplomats could wind up publicly defending Pyongyang, because of Beijing's long-standing alliance with the North.
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