The Washington Times - April 1, 2009, 08:40PM

SEOUL—The growing unease over North Korea’s hostility toward the outside world and its defiance of the United Nations with plans to launch a rocket next week has not deterred South Korea’s willingness to negotiate with its communist foe.

Politicians recently expressed hope that their centuries-old civilization would one day be reunited, even as the North prepared to fire a multistage rocket that U.S. officials say is capable of reaching Alaska.

Hopes for peace have persisted over the years despite the North’s test of an atomic bomb, its kidnapping of South Korean nationals and its acceptance of hundreds of millions of dollars in food, cash and money-losing investments from the South with little reciprocity.

“Right now we are in a very difficult, uncomfortable relationship with North Korea,” said Park Jin, a member of the National Assembly who represents the capital city of Seoul.

“This nuclear issue is still a growing concern,” said Mr. Park, who is a member of the governing Grand National Party.

North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006. During a four-day window that begins Sunday, North Korea says it will launch a satellite atop a multistage rocket.

The United States says the North’s claim that it is developing a civilian space program is intended to hide its effort to make nuclear-capable missiles. The United States, South Korea and Japan have ships capable of tracking and shooting down hostile missiles in position for launch.

Oh Joon, a deputy minister at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called for soft diplomacy with the North, outlining an economic development plan called Vision 3000.

“We will help North Korea to achieve per capita income of $3,000 if they denuclearize themselves and open up their society,” Mr. Oh said. “The North Korean nuclear issue and inter-Korean relations will progress hand in hand.”

The impoverished North is unable to feed its people and has suffered repeated bouts of famine since the early 1990s.

Mr. Oh urged North Korea to refrain from its rocket launch and comply with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718 requiring the country to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

Former South Korean president and Nobel Peace laureate Kim Dae-jung urged the U.S. to use diplomacy instead of threats.

“The tension on the Korean Peninsula is escalating due to the North Korean nuclear crisis,” Mr. Kim said. “Rather than taking this situation as an opportunity to use violence or to escalate a new level of tension, I think that this situation can be used as another opportunity to … find a new level of cooperation between the United States and North Korea.”

Mr. Kim, who served as president from 1998 to 2003, won the Nobel Prize in 2000 following a summit in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.