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(LEAD) NK denuclearization not precondition for better inter-Korean ties: official

All Headlines 16:57 July 14, 2015

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS more details in paras 2-7)

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is willing to have talks with North Korea as it does not see North Korea's denuclearization as a precondition for better inter-Korean ties, Seoul's unification minister said Tuesday.

North Korea's persistent pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles is posing a threat to a divided peninsula. Despite lingering tension, Seoul earlier said that it plans to encourage civilian groups to increase humanitarian support to the North this year to promote national unity.

Minister Hong Yong-pyo said that the South Korean government is ready to provide support to Pyongyang if it chooses to walk on the path toward denuclearization.

But he added that whether the North would give up its nukes is not an "absolute prerequisite" for better inter-Korean exchanges.

"It is not the government's stance that only when North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program that the South would pursue dialogue and inter-Korean exchanges," Hong told a press conference with foreign reporters in Seoul.

"North Korea's denuclearization is not the absolute prerequisite for every exchange and cooperative project," he said.

But Hong made it clear that Pyongyang should show "sincere" attitude toward denuclearization, calling on the North to make the "right" choice.

Touching on a conclusion of Iran's nuclear deal, Hong said that it is expected to put some level of "pressure" on North Korea as the North is the only isolated country with nuclear weapons.

Hong also called on North Korea to come to talks for "sincere dialogue" in a bid to bring peace and reconciliation to the divided peninsula.

In mid-June, the North made conditional offers for dialogue with South Korea, including the suspension of Seoul's joint military drills with the United States. In response, the South has urged Pyongyang to come to talks without laying down "improper preconditions."

The minister said that the two Koreas "must engage in official dialogue" for peace and conciliation on a divided peninsula.

"The ROK government has always maintained its stance to engage in sincere dialogue with Pyongyang to discuss a broad range of issues of mutual interest. We look forward to Pyongyang's positive response as soon as possible," Hong said.

The ROK is the full name of South Korea, the Republic of Korea.

His remarks came as tension still remains high on the peninsula due to the North's ceaseless provocations including its launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine in May.

Hong stressed that only when strong security is combined with solid trust, then the Korean Peninsula can achieve sound peace.

"To this end, we will do our utmost to encourage Pyongyang to change its passive attitude and join us in bringing sound peace to the peninsula," he said.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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