SEOUL -- South Korea's president-elect today joined the chorus of international figures clamoring for the United States to enter direct negotiations with North Korea over Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Speaking to foreign business people here, Roh Moo Hyun pledged to continue the dialogue between North and South Korea that was started by outgoing President Kim Dae Jung. But he said South Korea alone could not persuade North Korea without a more active U.S. role.
"South Korea needs to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear development program," Roh said. "But in order to convince North Korea, there needs to be a dialogue between North Korea and the United States. I would like to urge the United States to engage actively in dialogue with North Korea."
Roh also tried to calm jitters that South Korea could be dragged into a war if the United States launches preemptive strikes against North Korean nuclear facilities.
In apparent reaction to comments Thursday by Defense Minister Lee Jun that South Korea was preparing for a "worst-case scenario," Roh told the gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce and its European counterpart that "there is no need to worry about North Korean nuclear issues."
Reports in the South Korean media said Roh might meet next week with North Korean delegates who are due in Seoul for Cabinet-level meetings Jan. 21-25. Separately, an aide to Roh was quoted as saying that South Korea will offer its impoverished neighbor "generous aid" if it gives up its nuclear program.
North Korea has rebuffed several attempts by South Korea and Japan to discuss nuclear issues, saying that it wants only direct talks with the United States. The Bush administration firmly believes that North Korea's weapons development poses an international challenge and wants the international community to deal with it accordingly.
In a major shift in approach, President Bush on Tuesday dangled the prospect of food and energy aid in return for North Korean compliance on the nuclear front. North Korea scoffed at the offer, and relations remain at a stalemate.
Roh, a maverick labor lawyer who will take office Feb. 25, won the hotly contested presidential election last month with a campaign that stressed the need for patience and indulgence in dealing with North Korea. He has said frequently that "carrots and not sticks" will eventually soften North Korea's resistance. "We have to induce Pyongyang to reform and open up. Neither war nor collapse helps the peninsula," Roh said in today's speech.
He also distanced himself from accusations that he is anti-American, saying he sees a long-term role for U.S. troops in Korea even after Korean reunification.