SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's leader mixed calls for a strong defense with pledges to seek peace with North Korea in a Memorial Day speech Sunday, just days after his government asked the United Nations to punish the North for allegedly sinking a warship.
"We have an unachieved dream," President Lee Myung-bak said. "That is the dream of building a unified nation and enjoying freedom, peace and prosperity together with our northern compatriots who are still suffering poverty and suppression."
Lee said his government will strive to defend the country and revive the economy but stopped short of directly criticizing North Korea in the speech at Seoul's national cemetery. South Korean leaders traditionally use the annual speech to emphasize efforts toward peace.
Tensions with the North spiked after the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26 which killed 46 sailors. South Korea blamed a North Korean torpedo attack, which Pyongyang denies.
On Saturday, Lee ruled out going to war with North Korea in a speech to business leaders in Singapore and encouraged them to invest in his country.
South Korea officially referred North Korea to the U.N. Security Council on Friday over the ship sinking, taking its strongest step ever toward making the communist North face international punishment.
The move set the stage for the possibility of the most intense confrontation between North Korea and the U.N. Security Council since the 1950-1953 Korean War, which was authorized by the council in response to an invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces. Closed-door council consultations on the Cheonan's sinking were scheduled for Monday morning, according to the U.N. spokesman's office.