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(LEAD) S. Korean defense chief dangles prospect of 'infinite' benefits for N.K. denuclearization

14:04 September 07, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with meeting with key regional partners in last 2 paras)
By Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup on Wednesday held out the prospect of "infinite" benefits being provided to North Korea in case it opts to take a "new" path toward denuclearization.

Lee made the remarks during an opening ceremony of the annual Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD) hosted by his ministry, as Seoul is pushing for its "audacious plan" designed to help the North improve its economy should it take denuclearization steps.

"Should North Korea choose to take a new path forward, the benefits that it would enjoy would be infinite," Lee said at the three-day SDD that kicked off Tuesday.

"I hope members of the international community will continue to marshal their efforts to make the North recognize that should it continue on the path for the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, it cannot help but face immense costs," he added.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup speaks during the annual Seoul Defense Dialogue in Seoul on Sept. 7, 2022. (Yonhap)

In his keynote speech, South Korea's National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han struck a similar note, stressing that the door for inter-Korean dialogue remains open.

"Should North Korea come out for nuclear negotiations with sincerity, we will actively craft economic support measures and measures to build mutual trust from an early stage of negotiations," Kim said.

"In close cooperation with the international community, including the U.S., we will make efforts to foster conditions so that we can implement the audacious plan and realize denuclearization, peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," he added.

South Korea's National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han speaks during the annual Seoul Defense Dialogue in Seoul on Sept. 7, 2022. (Yonhap)

Kim also pointed out that for the goal of the North's complete denuclearization, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration will push for a "principled" inter-Korean relationship while maintaining the "strong" deterrence based on the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

Uncertainties have shrouded the Yoon administration's audacious plan as Pyongyang has spurned the plan as the "height of absurdity" and remained unresponsive to calls for dialogue due apparently to COVID-19 and other reasons.

The annual security forum became a venue for discussions on international cooperation on the North's denuclearization and peace on the peninsula and beyond.

Among the high-profile participants was the Netherlands' Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren who drove home an impactful message highlighting the need for global cooperation in tackling transnational challenges.

"Today's challenges and threats are playing out on a global scale and this means we must address them on a global scale," the minister said.

"The concept of faraway no longer exists, considering, for example, climate change, terrorism, the threat of nuclear weapons. But those are challenges in domains such as cyber and space, and we can only address them by working together," she added.

On the margins of the SDD, South Korea's Vice Defense Minister Shin Beom-chul held a meeting with representatives of the AP4, a group of four key Asia-Pacific partner countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

The participants discussed security on the peninsula and in the broader Indo-Pacific region, and shared the need for stronger solidarity to maintain the "rules-based" international order, according to the defense ministry here.




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