(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, Nov. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry said Monday it will create a "strategic environment" for North Korea to return to the negotiating table in a booklet detailing the Yoon Suk-yeol administration's stated "audacious" proposal designed to help Pyongyang improve its economy in exchange for denuclearization.
The government will also provide support for eventually "normalizing" diplomatic ties between the North and the United States, according to the booklet released earlier in the day.
The ministry outlined a three-step approach of providing various corresponding measures to the North, ranging from food and aid exchange programs to inter-Korean trade and investments.
Kwon Young-se, South Korea's top point man on North Korea, urged Pyongyang to cease all provocations and return to nuclear talks, saying such a move will "only deepen its isolation."
"If North Korea comes forward to the negotiating table, we will be able to put on the table the issues that it is concerned with and discuss them based on mutual reciprocity," Kwon said during his opening speech at a seminar on the audacious initiative.
Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy chief of the presidential National Security Office, also said the government will continue to deter North Korean threats and dissuade the North from its nuclear development until the reclusive country engages in dialogue.
"We need to continue cooperating with the international community and pressuring the North so that it realizes there is no use developing nuclear weapons," he said. "Our deterrence should be one that prevents the North from using nuclear weapons even if it has them."
In the initial stages, the ministry said it will push ahead with programs to help improve the livelihood of North Koreans, including the Resources-Food Exchange Program (R-FEP), if the North returns to denuclearization talks. The R-FEP centers on allowing the export of the North's mineral resources, currently banned under global sanctions, in exchange for food and daily necessities.
The ministry said it will seek active cooperation from the U.S. and the international community on sanctions to carry out such programs.
Inter-Korean economic exchanges in the second stage will include port and airport modernization, as well as improving the North's infrastructure, power generation and hospitals. In this stage, dubbed the "practical denuclearization" stage, the government will work to build military trust with the North to ease tensions and prevent accidental clashes.
Seoul will also seek to sign a peace treaty with the North, and help Washington and Pyongyang establish diplomatic ties in the final stages of "complete" denuclearization, it said. The two Koreas are still technically at war, as the conflict ended only with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
The ministry did not provide details on what exact measures the North must take in each of the steps to receive economic incentives.
"Regarding the question on what constitutes as 'practical denuclearization,' we will work on the details after we start negotiations with North Korea," a ministry official told reporters on the customary condition of anonymity.
In August, Yoon publicly proposed an "audacious" initiative to North Korea, promising to offer economic incentives in return for Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization. The North has rejected the proposal as "absurd," vowing not to trade its nuclear arsenal for economic aid.
The recalcitrant regime has sharply escalated tensions on the peninsula in recent weeks with a barrage of missile tests, including an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the entire U.S. mainland, amid concerns it could conduct a nuclear test.
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