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South Korea proposes aid for North if it halts nuclear arms programme

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed a broad range of economic aid for impoverished North Korea on Friday if it agrees to give up its nuclear programme.

It was not immediately clear how the North would respond to the proposal, made in a speech in Dresden, Germany, but it has repeatedly rejected the idea of abandoning its nuclear programme, which it says is a necessary deterrent against U.S. hostility.

North and South Korea have been technically at war since the end of their 1950-53 civil conflict, as the fighting ended with a mere truce, not a treaty. North Korea threatened nuclear strikes against the South and the United States last year after the United Nations tightened sanctions against it for conducting its third nuclear test.

Park said the two Koreas must put confrontation behind them and start the work of preparing for unification, and offered to help develop the North’s economy, agriculture and social infrastructure.

“In order for these efforts for us to become one again to bear results at an early time, North Korea must go on the road to denuclearisation,” Park said.

She also offered to help the North join the international financial system and proposed the establishment of liaison offices on both sides to promote exchanges.

Park’s proposal continues a series of policy initiatives by Park and her predecessor offering huge economic incentives in return for the North giving up its nuclear ambitions.

Five countries including the South and the United States in 2005 also struck a deal with the North to provide economic aid in return for an agreement to end its nuclear arms programme, which Pyongyang has since torn up.

On Thursday, the North ridiculed Park in scathing commentary for her comments at a nuclear security summit earlier in the week in The Hague where she spoke about the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation posed by North Korea.

“Explicitly speaking about the nuclear issue, there may be the denuclearisation of the whole Korean peninsula but no unilateral denuclearisation by the north under any circumstances,” it said. “She had better not even dream about it.”

North Korea has accused the United States of maintaining nuclear weapons in South Korea and planning to invade the North, which Washington denies.

North Korea’s economy is about a thirtieth of the size of industrial powerhouse South Korea and often has trouble feeding its people.

Its missile launches and nuclear tests since 2006 have led to U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban arms trade and cut it off international financial system.

In the latest rebuke of the North’s arms provocation, the U.N. Security Council condemned its ballistic missile launch this week as a violation of resolutions and said it would hold discussions on a response.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie