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New South Korea leader offers support if North denuclearises

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative political neophyte, took office yesterday as South Korea’s new president with a vow to pursue a negotiated settlement of North Korea’s threatening nuclear program and an offer of “an audacious plan” to improve its economy if it abandons its nuclear weapons.

Yoon is starting his single five-year term during one of the most challenging situations of any recent new president, facing a mix of significant security, economic and social problems that are besetting the world’s 10th largest economy.

There’s widespread scepticism that an increasingly belligerent North Korea will give his offers much consideration, and South Korea’s deep political and social divides, as well as growing worry about the state of the pandemic-hit economy, are reflected in a recent poll showing that Yoon faces lower popularity numbers than the departing liberal president, Moon Jae-in.

Yoon had promised a tougher stance on North Korea during his campaign, but he avoided harsh rhetoric during his inaugural speech amid growing worries that the North is preparing its first nuclear bomb test in nearly five years. North Korea has rejected similar overtures by some of Yoon’s predecessors that linked incentives to progress in its denuclearisation.

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes are a threat, not only to our security but also to Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat,” Yoon told a crowd gathered outside Parliament in Seoul.

South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol. PHOTO: AP