South Korean leader calls for both flexibility and principle in dealing with North Korea's nuclear crisis

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) President Roh Moo-hyun said Friday that it takes both flexibility and a principled stance to convince communist North Korea that it must abandon its nuclear weapons programs. In a major policy speech before the National Assembly, Roh urged South Koreans to be "calm" following North Korea's recent, unconfirmed announcement that it has nuclear weapons. Roh also assured that South Korea's alliance with the United States was more stable than ever, saying his government's diplomacy of "saying what we want to say and argue what we want to argue" has turned its relations with Washington healthier. "Although an unexpected development occurred, it doesn't greatly change the fundamental structure" of the nuclear standoff, Roh said in a speech marking the second anniversary of his inauguration. He was referring to North Korea's Feb. 10 announcement that it not only has nuclear bombs but will boycott six-party nuclear disarmament talks. "We will be flexible but won't lose our principled stance," said Roh, who was wearing glasses after surgery on an eyelid. He didn't elaborate, but he urged the rival political parties to stand behind his government, warning that North Korea might capitalize on "division and conflict" within South Korea. Roh's emphasis on flexibility and principle appeared to embrace two divisive views Roh's liberal ruling camp that stresses reconciliation with the North to help it open up and democratize, and his conservative critics who accuse Roh of being too soft on the North's reluctance to give up nuclear weapons. North Korea's Feb. 10 statement flouted the United States, South Korea and their allies who seek to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs through six-party talks. Since 2003, Beijing has hosted three rounds of talks involving China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, with little progress reported. A fourth round scheduled for last September never took place because North Korea refused to attend, citing what it calls a "hostile" U.S. policy. Negotiators from the United States, Japan and South Korea prepared to meet in Seoul on Saturday to try to revive the negotiations. U.S. officials urged the allies to take "coordinated" actions, warning that North Korea could try to exploit divisions if the nations participating in the multilateral discussions do not adopt a unified approach. On Monday, the communist country's leader, Kim Jong Il, hinted at a possible compromise, telling a Chinese envoy his government would return to the negotiating table if certain unspecified conditions are met. In previous talks, North Korea has demanded more aid and a peace treaty with Washington in exchange for giving up its nuclear program. The United States is demanding that the North immediately dismantle all nuclear facilities. Associated Press

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