Recent South Korean military drills have angered Pyonyang [AFP]

South Korea's president has called for urgent progress to me made in dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programme ahead of a key anniversary that could spur Pyongyang to bolster its capabilities.

Lee Myung-Bak called for a diplomatic resolution on Wednesday, but also promised a tough stance if faced with aggression from North Korea.
 
"South Korea is not aiming for a war," Lee said in a meeting with top defence officials. "If provoked, however, we must make a strong response and win."

He urged diplomats to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear aspirations as 2012 approaches.

The year will be the 100th since the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the revered fighter-turned-political leader who founded the communist state in 1948 and the father of Kim Jong-Il, the North's current leader.

The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a South Korean foreign ministry-affiliated think tank, warned in a recent report that Pyongyang could be planning another nuclear test for next year.

Talks stalled

Tensions between the two countries have been high since last month, when North Korea shelled the southern-held Yeonpyeong Island along a disputed sea border.

Four people were killed in the attack, the North's first assault on a civilian area since the conclusion of the 1950 to 1953 Korean war.

The North says it was provoked by South Korean military drills, but the country, which is deficient in food and fuel, has previously used nuclear and missile tests as a tactic to negotiate disarmament in exchange for aid.

On Tuesday, Hyun In-Taek, the South's unification minister, said Seoul was considering offering the North "epoch-making humanitarian support" if it demonstrated sincerity in its policies, including an "irreversible denuclearisation".

Six-nation talks on ending the North's weapons programme have been stalled for nearly two years.

North Korea has recently said that it is willing to return to negotiations, but the US and South Korea have demanded that Pyonyang make progress on past disarmament commitments before negotiations can resume.

Source: Agencies