Seoul: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has vowed a tough stance against any further attack by North Korea, said on Wednesday the nuclear crisis must be tackled by negotiation.
Lee also called for fresh dialogue between the rival Koreas, saying a hardline military policy alone by Seoul, while offering an effective deterrent, will not ease the tension.
Stalled talks by six countries, which the North walked out of two years ago, were the only available forum to end the North`s nuclear program in return for economic aid and diplomatic recognition, Lee said at a policy briefing by the Foreign Ministry.
"I think removal of the North Korea nuclear programs should be achieved through six-party talks next year as North Korea targets 2012 for its achievement of a power country," he said.
North Korea attacked the southern island of Yeonpyeong on Nov 23, killing four people. It was also blamed by the United States and South Korea for sinking a South Korean naval vessel in March, killing 46 sailors.
Like the United States, South Korea has signaled that it is loath to restart the diplomatic process -- also involving China, Japan, and Russia -- unless its reclusive neighbor shows steps toward completely dismantling its nuclear program.
China, the North`s main ally and economic backer, has called for a restart of the six-party talks without preconditions.
Lee said South Korea, however, must not let down its military guard against the North.
"Ensuring peace on the Korea peninsula is an important task going forward but this can`t be done with diplomacy only. I think we need strong defense capabilities and unity among the people should be achieved as prerequisites."
But he made a fresh call for dialogue between the rivals, saying: "There must be efforts also to try to establish peace through dialogue between the South and the North."
Lee has come under pressure over a perceived weak response to the Yeonpyeong attack that raised tension on the peninsula to the highest level since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Lee last week vowed "a merciless counterattack" against any fresh North Korean assaults as the South Korean army held rare large-scale military drills near the border in a demonstration of military might.