South Korea's Park urges isolated North to choose a new path

WASHINGTON Wed May 8, 2013 1:36pm EDT

1 of 3. South Korea's President Park Geun-hye is applauded by U.S. Viice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as she addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington May 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Thursday her country is facing down North Korea's threats "resolutely but calmly" and called on Pyongyang to end the cycle of tension and short-lived stability on the Korean peninsula.

In her address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Park said South Korea's stable financial markets and strong economic fundamentals showed Seoul was unbowed by 10 weeks of nuclear war threats from North Korea.

"The Korean government is reacting resolutely but calmly. We are maintaining the highest level of readiness," she said in English to loud applause in a packed U.S. Capitol.

"You may rest assured: No North Korean provocation will succeed," Park said. She echoed lines from her show of solidarity with President Barack Obama at the White House a day earlier, when Obama said Pyongyang had failed to rattle their alliance of 60 years and gained nothing from saber-rattling.

The 61-year-old daughter of a former Cold War military dictator presented a vision of the future in which South Korea and its U.S. ally would deal firmly with North Korea while working for a more stable long-term peace.

"That future, I know, feels distant today," she said.

South Korea will never tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea and would react "decisively" to provocations from the isolated, impoverished state that has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, Park said.

"At the same time, I will not link humanitarian aid provided to the North Korean people, such as infants and young children, to the political situation," she said, in a reference to persistent malnutrition in the country of 25 million people.

She held out the possibility of aid and economic cooperation to build up trust with Pyongyang, the core North Korea policy of her successful campaign last year to become the first female leader of South Korea.

"But as we say in Korea, 'It takes two hands to clap,'" said Park.

To gain the economic benefits of re-engagement with South Korea, North Korea "must walk the path to become a responsible member of the community of nations," she said.

After it conducted a nuclear test in mid-February that drew swift U.N. Security Council sanctions, North Korea ramped up tensions in its neighborhood with near-daily threats to attack South Korea, the United States and U.S. military bases in Japan.

Pyongyang caused further alarm last month when it closed a jointly run industrial zone in North Korea, sending most South Korean workers from the zone, virtually stopping all operations at the last remaining symbol of North-South cooperation.

Early this week, however, U.S. officials said North Korea has taken two Musudan missiles off launch-ready status and moved them from the country's east coast, after weeks of concern that Pyongyang had been poised for a test-launch.

There has also been a lull in bellicose rhetoric from North Korean state media, although Park said on Tuesday it was impossible to fathom Pyongyang's intentions.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)