Roh sees NKorea as stable, keen on US ties

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Seoul, Oct 19: South Korea's president today said he sees the North Korean government as stable and wanting to resolve the nuclear issue to improve relations with the United States.

''The reason that North Korea wants to resolve the nuclear issue is because it wants to improve relations with the United States,'' Roh Moo-hyun told foreign reporters at the presidential Blue House.

Impoverished North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test a year ago, struck a deal in February with regional powers to end its nuclear weapons programme in return for massive aid and ending its status as an international pariah.

Washington has said it would begin the paperwork to remove the North from its list of states that sponsor terrorism once Pyongyang disables its plants the produce weapons-grade plutonium and accounts for all its fissile material.

Better ties with Washington mean that isolated North Korea can better tap into global finance.

Roh denied suggestions that Kim Jong-il, whose reign has been marked by famine an running an already anaemic economy further into the ground, was in danger of losing his grip on power.

''It is very unlikely that North Korea will collapse,'' he said adding ''reunification by absorbing North Korea will be virtually impossible.'' Analysts point out it is unclear if Kim, 65 and suspected of having chronic illnesses, has any succession plans for the world's only communist dynasty.

Many in South Korea are worried that it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to unify with the North, which could wreck the South's economy -- the world's 13th largest.

They also fear a flood of refugees coming over the border from the North -- whose is economy is less than 3 per cent the size of the South's.

''There is no such thing as unification costs,'' Roh said adding the concept was borne out of the Germany's unification in the 1990s and does not apply to North Korea.

Earlier this month, at only the second summit of the leaders of the Koreas divided for more than half a century, Roh and Kim agreed to economic cooperation projects where the South would help rebuild the North's creaky infrastructure.

As one analyst said Roh is backing a go-slow approach, or ''unification on the instalment plan.'' ''To us, North Korea is a vast market in which we can make a great deal of investment,'' Roh said.


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