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(LEAD) Park calls for efforts to open era of denuclearization, unification

All Headlines 19:11 April 29, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS throughout with comments by Park; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye called Friday for efforts to open an era of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and unification of the two Koreas.

South Korea should “use the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs as an opportunity to strengthen the foundation that can open an era of denuclearization and unification on the Korean Peninsula, not just simply tide over the threat,” Park said in a meeting with the outgoing commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, without elaborating.

The chief executive called on South Korean and U.S. military commanders to forge ties that can further strengthen the already close alliance.

Park then conferred the Order of National Security Merit, the highest military award, to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti in a ceremony at the presidential office in recognition of his efforts for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Scaparrotti is set to assume his new position as commander of the U.S. European Command and is to be replaced by Gen. Vincent Brooks in a change of command ceremony to be held at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul on Saturday.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as the 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, not a peace treaty.

The change of command of the U.S. troops came amid speculation that North Korea could carry out a fifth nuclear test to mark a rare congress of the ruling Workers' Party early next month.

Park has repeatedly warned that North Korea's provocations could hasten its collapse.

Separately, presidential spokesman Jeong Yeon-guk said Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn could hold a meeting of the National Security Council “at any time if needed” to deal with North Korea's possible provocations during Park's overseas trip next week.

The president is set to make a four-day trip to Tehran on Sunday as part of South Korea's efforts to boost ties and tap into business opportunities in Iran following the lifting of international sanctions earlier this year.

entropy@yna.co.kr
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