- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

At a time when North Korea’s status as a world threat has decreased, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said yesterday that a joint effort should be made by the United States and South Korea to invest in the North’s economy.

“Currently, North Korea is importing 80 percent of its daily necessities from China,” Mr. Kim said in a speech to about 100 listeners at the National Press Club.

“China has been showing interest in various economic projects such as the exploration of North Korea’s underground mineral resources. I believe, against this backdrop, both South Korea and the United States should advance into the North Korean economy to keep the balance against China.”

Mr. Kim said the United States and its allies could benefit not only from offsetting China’s influence, but also economically from North Korea’s tungsten and gold deposits and opportunities for tourism.

The proposal comes amid rapidly improving relations between North Korea and the United States, with Pyongyang starting to dismantle its nuclear weapons program after years of confrontation.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is scheduled to travel to Pyongyang for a groundbreaking summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il beginning Oct. 2.

“I expect that they will also discuss expanding economic cooperation between the two Koreas,” Mr. Kim said. He also foresees discussion on measures to decrease the tension on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea currently remains on the State Department’s list of countries that support terrorism, a status that Pyongyang hopes to have removed.

An April 2007 report by Larry Niksch and Raphael Perl of the Congressional Research Service said North Korea could be stricken from the list as soon as next March if it carries through with the disarmament of its nuclear facility in Yongbyon.

Mr. Kim said yesterday he was confident that commitments made during the six-party talks will be met in a timely fashion, allowing the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia to interact diplomatically with North Korea.

“The U.S. no longer needs to be hesitant about resolving the situation, since North Korea announced it would abandon its nuclear ambitions completely and would join in the efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Kim said.

The Nobel Peace laureate also dismissed repeated reports that South Koreans have turned against the United States, forgetting its role in defending the nation during the Korean War.

“The absolute majority of the [South] Korean people clearly understand that the U.S. is a crucial ally,” he said. “I believe that the [South] Korean people are expressing their dissatisfaction towards the U.S. policy and not to the U.S. itself.”

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