Lee Jong-seok 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
South Korea's Cabinet minister in charge of relations with North Korea offered to resign to take responsibility for the North's nuclear test, the presidential office said Wednesday.
Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok has been a strong supporter of engagement with North Korea, and his critics accuse him of being pro-Pyongyang at a time when neighbors should be wary because of its Oct. 9 atomic test. However, the government has said its policy of engagement with the North will continue.
Lee, the second minister to offer his resignation this week, expressed his intention to President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday, an official at Roh's office said.
"Faced with North Korea's nuclear test, I apologize to the people and to the president," Lee was quoted as telling reporters Wednesday.
"I don't think I made a big mistake in carrying out North Korean policy. I also have a firm faith in what the engagement policy has achieved," Lee said. "But on the occasion of the North's nuclear test, I thought that a more capable person should take this job."
Chief presidential spokesman Yoon Tai-young said Roh would consider Lee's resignation along with an offer by the defense minister to step down, according to his office.
Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung offered his resignation Monday after sealing a deal with the United States for Seoul to regain full wartime control of South Korean forces. Conservatives assailed Yoon for making the deal in light of the increased regional tension following North Korea's nuclear test.
Conservatives have said South Korea doesn't have the intelligence and other capabilities to assume full wartime control of its forces, and expressed concern the move would weaken the alliance with the United States and dilute deterrence against North Korea.
However, it was not clear if Yoon's decision was linked to the criticism.
Roh also has to name a new foreign minister, because Ban Ki-moon has been elected the new UN secretary-general and will start his new job in January.
Roh's spokesman Yoon said Wednesday there were no plans at this time for any major policy shift by Seoul in light of the resignation offers, which has so far said it would maintain its engagement with the North.
Lee, who had been Roh's main security aide, was named the unification minister in January and took office in February. He is a respected expert on North Korea and was considered an architect of Roh's policy on the communist state.
The unification minister represents the government in Cabinet-level talks with North Korea, the highest inter-Korean dialogue channel between the divided states. The meetings convene several times a year to discuss measures to boost exchanges and ease tension across the world's most heavily fortified border.
But the talks have been suspended since July after the North test-fired a series of missiles.
The two Koreas technically remain in a state of conflict because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Relations have warmed significantly since the first-ever summit of their leaders in 2000 but tension persists because of the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons.