SEOUL, South Korea ( Associated Press) — Conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, a political newcomer, assumed the presidency of South Korea on Tuesday vowing to seek a negotiated settlement on the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program and offering a “ bold plan” to improve its neighbor’s economy if Pyongyang abandons nuclear weapons.
While promising a tougher stance on North Korea during his campaign, Yoon avoided harsh rhetoric in his inaugural address amid growing concerns that the North is preparing its first nuclear bomb test in nearly five years. North Korea has rejected similar approaches from several of Yoon’s predecessors, which linked incentives to denuclearization.
“Although North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs are a threat, not only to our security but to Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can resolve this threat peacefully,” Yoon told the assembled crowd. before parliament in Seoul.
“If North Korea genuinely embarks on a full denuclearization process, we stand ready to work with the international community to come up with a bold plan that will significantly strengthen the North Korean economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he said. .
Yoon also mentioned the growing economic problems in South Korea, noting that the decline of the labor market and the widening gap between rich and poor are opening a democratic crisis by fueling “internal discord and disputes” and fueling a current of “anti-intellectualism”. as people lose their sense of community and belonging.
The president said he would encourage economic growth to help close political differences and income inequality.
The advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program poses a difficult security challenge for Yoon, who won the May 9 election on a promise to strengthen the alliance formed 70 years ago by South Korea and the United States and expand his own missile capability to neutralize North Korean threats.
In recent months, North Korea has tested several nuclear-capable missiles that could reach South Korea, Japan and the continental United States. Pyongyang appeared to be trying to destabilize Yoon’s government, as well as modernize its weapons arsenal and pressure the US government to relax its sanctions.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently warned that his nuclear weapons would not be limited to their primary mission of preventing war if his national interests were threatened.