SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea plans to renew its offer to give aid to North Korea if the impoverished communist country gives up its nuclear ambitions, the president's office said Friday, a day after the North freed a South Korean worker detained for months.
The North's move, which came a week after Pyongyang released two U.S. journalists following a visit by former President Bill Clinton, could help improve relations between the two Koreas that were further strained by the North's recent nuclear and missile tests.
Bilateral ties began deteriorating when pro-U.S., conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office early last year with a tougher stance on the North. Pyongyang responded by cutting most ties or curtailing key joint projects except for a joint industrial complex in a border town.
Lee plans to reiterate his commitment to assisting North Korea's economy, infrastructure and other fields if "North Korea abandons its nuclear" program, Lee's office said Friday.
Lee will also make a wide-range of proposals to help establish peace on the divided peninsula, his office said without elaborating. The Korean war ended in a 1953 cease-fire that has never been replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.
Lee's proposals will be announced Saturday, when he plans to deliver a speech marking the anniversary of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
It remains unclear if Seoul's proposed aid offer will prod North Korea to back down from its hard-line position on its nuclear program and re-engage in talks with South Korea.
In April, North Korea pulled out of the six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear program and later vowed not to give up its nuclear program, which Pyongyang describes as a deterrent against possible U.S. attacks. Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking the North.
Pyongyang has also called for one-on-one negotiations with Washington on its nuclear program rather than the group talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. The U.S. has said it is willing to hold direct talks with Pyongyang — but only on the sidelines of the six-nation discussions.
Meanwhile, Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun, who visited Pyongyang on Monday to secure the release of a detained Hyundai worker, extended her stay for another day — the third time this week — and plans to return home Saturday.
It was not immediately clear whether Hyun would get a chance to hold rare talks with North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il. Hyun has already met with North Korea's spy chief Kim Yang Gon, according to Cho Kun-shik, president of Hyundai Asan, the group's North Korean business arm.
On Thursday, Pyongyang freed Yoo Seong-jin, a 44-year-old technician who worked at the joint industrial park in the North, where about 110 South Korean-run factories employ about 40,000 North Korean workers. Yoo was held for allegedly denouncing the North's government and attempting to persuade a North Korean worker to defect.
The North is still holding four South Korean fishermen whose boat was seized last month after straying accidentally into northern waters.