South Korea indicated yesterday, that North Korea would pay a price for any further escalation of the nuclear crisis in a shift in policy toward the Stalinist state.
Until now, South Korea has viewed its engagement policy of economic exchanges with North Korea as separate from the nuclear crisis and the government of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has sought to step up inter-Korean cooperation.
But top officials outlined a tougher stand before the National Assembly as a delegation from Seoul prepared to head to Pyongyang for four days of economic talks.
Prime Minister Goh Kun said that henceforth inter-Korean exchanges would depend on North Korea's conduct in the standoff with the US over its drive to obtain nuclear weapons.
"North Korea's nuclear problem, if it worsens, will affect inter-Korean exchanges," he warned.
South Korea will abide by a joint statement signed by Roh and US President George W. Bush in Washington last week in which inter-Korean exchanges were linked to the nuclear crisis and which referred to the need for "further steps" if the crisis deepened.
Goh said the new policy was based on reality and said the Seoul government "will deal with North Korea in a realistic and flexible manner."
South Korea's Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, who is in charge of many aspects of Pyongyang-Seoul affairs also addressing the National Assembly, reinforced the message that North Korea would pay a price for further escalation of the nuclear crisis.
Jeong said a North Korean escalation could include preparations for possible missile launches, serious military provocation or the regime declaring the completion of nuclear fuel reprocessing.
"In that case we will work out proper countermeasures through cooperation with the United States and Japan," he said.
Roh said that economic aid to the impoverished North Korea would continue to be unaffected by any countermeasures.
"We would better push ahead with humanitarian aid to North Korea without being affected by other pending issues between South and North Korea," Roh was quoted by his spokesman as saying.
Seoul is a top donor of food and other aid to its bankrupt northern neighbor that has been unable to feed its people for nearly a decade.
At inter-Korean talks last month, North Korea asked for rice and fertilizer aid.
South Korea promised to ship 200,000 tonnes of fertilizer but has yet to respond to the request for rice.