South Korea Calls For New Six-Party Talks With North

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has called for new six-party talks with North Korea.

(BBC)

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak delivers a speech during a briefing about next year's foreign policy plans at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. South Korea's president is calling for urgency in dismantling North Korea's atomic weapons program, saying the country's nuclear disarmament must be achieved through diplomacy.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has called for new six-party talks with North Korea.

Mr Lee said there was no choice but to try to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programme through diplomacy.

His comments follow a year of high tension, including exchanges of fire between North and South.

The talks format involves the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US, and had offered rewards to the North for ending its nuclear programme.

South Korea, the United States and Japan had previously said six-party talks could not resume until the North showed serious intent to change.

"(We) have no choice but to resolve the problem of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme diplomatically through the six-party talks," said Mr Lee.

He was speaking after receiving the annual report from his foreign ministry.

Mr Lee said time was short for the international community to make progress on ending the North's nuclear threat because North Korea has set 2012 as its deadline to become a "great, powerful and prosperous" nation.

Tense times

A protester burns a North Korean flag and portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Kim Jong-un during an anti-North Korea rally near the U.S. embassy in Seoul December 28, 2010. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for national solidarity against military aggression by the North on Monday, saying Pyongyang looks for division in the South as an opportunity to strike. The Chinese letters on the front sign read; "China! Stop supporting North Korea immediately!".

The comments appear to mark a shift away from the hard-line he had taken after North Korea was accused of torpedoing a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, on 26 March.

That incident left 46 South Korean sailors dead.

On 23 November, North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonbyeong, killing four South Koreans, including civilians.

North Korea and its ally China, meanwhile, expressed anger at huge military drills mounted by the South with its main ally the United States.

South Korean reports say that North Korea has also dramatically stepped up its military drills in the past year.

Western allies of South Korea were angered by revelations this year about the existence of another nuclear enrichment plant in North Korea.

The North has again defended this, saying it was for the production of civilian power sources only and would not have been necessary if the US had kept to earlier promises to supply such facilities.

The six-party negotiations led to the closure of a plutonium-producing reactor in 2007, but collapsed in April 2009 amid mutual recriminations, after which the North set off further nuclear tests.

Mr Lee Myung-bak also told his nation earlier this week that it must unite in the face of military aggression from the North.

On Sunday, it was announced that South Korean and Chinese defence ministers would meet in Beijing in February for talks on the situation.