South Korea and France vowed Thursday to jointly tackle North Korea's provocations and human rights abuses as they marked a key anniversary in their bilateral ties.
At a forum celebrating 130 years of diplomatic relations, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, noted the threats posed by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and the acute suffering of its people.
"North Korea, from the outset of the year, is threatening the entire world with its fourth nuclear test, which was followed by the launch of a long-range ballistic missile," Yun said in a keynote speech, referring to the nuclear test on Jan. 6 and rocket launch on Feb. 7.
France, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, played an active role early this month in the adoption of a tough sanctions resolution punishing the North for conducting the tests in violation of past U.N. resolutions.
"In order to make North Korea realize that it can't survive by developing nuclear (weapons) and that it should sincerely choose the path to denuclearization, we need to put strong pressure on the North through the faithful implementation of the Security Council resolution," Yun said. "For this, South Korea plans to closely cooperate with France, which is a permanent member of the Security Council and a key nation of the EU."
On North Korea's human rights situation, Yun said many North Koreans are risking their lives to escape their country in search of freedom and a "life as humans."
"This strongly demonstrates, more than any words, the North Korean regime's oppressive rule and repressive human rights situation," he said.
Ayrault, who arrived in Seoul Wednesday for a three-day visit, said he was especially moved by the testimonies of four North Korean defectors he met earlier in the day. One of them told him North Korean defectors are here not to live, but to survive.
"This strengthens France's resolve that we should act together with South Korea, in the U.N. framework and in the E.U. framework, so that sanctions are effectively implemented and further strengthened to force the North Korean regime to step back, and that at last we can put an end to this unbearable situation," he told Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of the forum.
During his keynote speech, Ayrault stressed the unity of France and South Korea in the face of North Korea's provocations -- the same unity South Korea demonstrated following the Paris terrorist attacks in November.
Later in the day, the ministers held the two countries' first strategic dialogue to discuss a wide range of bilateral and global issues, including North Korea.
"The two countries' foreign ministers reaffirmed their cooperation in responding to North Korea's nuclear tests and missile provocations and in strictly implementing Security Council Resolution 2270," Cho June-hyuck, a spokesman of Seoul's Foreign Ministry, said during a regular press briefing.
The ministers also held in-depth discussions on their bilateral ties and global issues, such as terrorism, refugee issues and climate change, he said.
The strategic talks were held in line with an action plan to strengthen the two countries' comprehensive partnership in the 21st century, which was adopted during bilateral summit talks in Seoul in November. (Yonhap)