President Lee Myung-bak
By Na Jeong-ju
South Korea won't close the inter-Korean industrial complex in Gaeseong, North Korea, even though the communist country plans to launch a rocket, President Lee Myung-bak said.
In an interview with the Financial Times, published Monday, Lee said he opposes any military response to the North's planned rocket launch as it would hurt inter-Korean relations.
The interview was made ahead of his departure for London to participate in the G20 summit, where he is expected to call on countries to remove trade protectionist measures.
He will hold meetings with a number of world leaders, including those of the United States, Japan and China, to discuss ways of coping with global economic downturn and North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.
During the interview, Lee said, ``It is not always helpful to be tough on North Korea.''
``The goal is to persuade the North to give up its nuclear programs and achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. We won't resort to excessive measures, such as closing the industrial complex, even after the rocket launch.''
The remarks appear to reflect concern that any tough reaction could raise tensions further at a time when the communist regime is warning that even U.N. sanctions would prompt it to quit the nuclear disarmament talks.
Pyongyang has said it will launch a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8 as part of its space development program. Regional powers, however, suspect the North is using the launch to test long-range missile technology.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. has no plans to try to intercept the North Korean rocket but might consider trying if an ``aberrant missile'' were headed to Hawaii or elsewhere in the U.S.
Still, Gates said the North's launch is a step toward developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, and ``a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.''
Over the news that Japan has instructed its Self Defense Forces to intercept any North Korea object that flies over its territory, President Lee said he understands Japan.
``That's a decision made by the Japanese government with the sole purpose of protecting its own citizens,'' Lee said.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have warned the North that if it goes ahead with the launch it could face international sanctions under a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibiting ballistic missile activity by Pyongyang. Pyongyang threatened to boycott the six-party talks on its nuclear program if the sanctions are imposed.
Lee called on the communist nation to refrain from taking further provocative actions, saying that regardless of their true intentions, it can only be seen as an attempt to develop missile capability.