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South Korea offers major aid package to North to seek its denuclearization

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaking at the National Assembly in Seoul on March 10. (Photo by AFP)

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has offered a wide-ranging aid package to North Korea on the condition of its denuclearization, a proposal highly unlikely to be considered by Pyongyang.

“The audacious initiative that I envision will significantly improve North Korea’s economy and its people’s livelihoods in stages if the North ceases the development of its nuclear program and embarks on a genuine and substantive process for denuclearization,” Yoon said in an address on Monday marking the anniversary of liberation from Japan’s colonial rule in 1945.

The offer came just days after North Korea threatened to “wipe out” Seoul authorities over a recent COVID-19 outbreak and less than a month after its leader Kim Jong-un announced that his country was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear capability in any war with the US and the South.

The conservative South Korean president, however, insisted on Monday that denuclearization was “essential” for lasting peace on the peninsula, while trying to woe Pyongyang with a large-scale aid plan that would include food and energy as well as help in modernizing infrastructures such as ports, airports, and hospitals.

The development comes days after North Korea criticized UN Secretary-General over his remarks that he backs efforts to completely denuclearize the North.

“Everything that can be done to launch a process of dialogue, aiming at the denuclearization, it will be very much welcome and will have the full support of the United Nations,” Guterres said.

In response, Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations at North Korea’s foreign ministry, said the country's nuclear program is its “inevitable choice” to defend its security, the country's state news agency (KCNA) reported on Sunday. 

“I cannot but express deep regret over the said remarks of the UN secretary-general that grossly lack impartiality and fairness and go against the obligations of his duty, specified in the UN Charter, as regards the issue of the Korean peninsula,” Kim said in a statement.

Analysts, meanwhile, view the chances of Pyongyang accepting Seoul's offer as bleak since it has long rejected such proposals in face of persisting military collaborations and joint war games by the US and South Korean forces close to its waters.

The development comes with North Korea test-firing a record number of missiles this year amid claims by officials in Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. However, during inconclusive negotiations later with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since then.

The United States has warned that it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.

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