North asked to give up nukes

2009-06-17 22:07

Washington - South Korean President Lee Myung-bak wrapped up his three-day trip to the US on Wednesday with more tough talk for North Korea, promising that South Korea and its allies will not be intimidated by Pyongyang's nuclear threats.

Lee and President Barack Obama have used the visit to display a unified front in the face of North Korea's threats of nuclear war and its vow to expand its nuclear programmes.

Tensions in northeast Asia have risen sharply since the United Nations slapped the North with sanctions as punishment for its nuclear test last month.

The North responded to the visit with a statement vowing "a one hundred- or one thousand-fold retaliation with merciless military strikes" for infringements on its sovereignty.

Lee told an audience at the George Washington University, where he received an honorary degree, that "under no circumstances will we allow nuclear weapons" in the North.

Lee said: “North Korea continues to engage in belligerent activities, threatening peace and stability in northeast Asia and beyond".

But Lee also held out the possibility of a nuclear-free North Korea gaining peace and prosperity and normal relations with the outside world.

"North Korea must understand that it is in their best interests to fully give up their nuclear weapons ambitions.

"When North Korea takes meaningful steps toward peace and dialogue, Korea, as well as the rest of the international community, stands ready to extend a helping hand."

North Korea already has tested two underground nuclear devices and is believed by US intelligence to possess enough material to make several nuclear bombs.

North Korea is furious over UN sanctions that toughen an arms embargo and authorise ship searches in an attempt to thwart the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. The United Nations, however, did not authorise military force to compel the measures.