SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea formally offered today to supply North Korea with modern nuclear power plants if the North opens its nuclear program to international inspection.
The offer, made in a modestly conciliatory speech by President Kim Young Sam, came two days after the United States and North Korea agreed on measures to settle the nuclear issue, and could be a major step toward realizing that goal.
Mr. Kim's speech, his first substantive remarks on relations with the North since the death last month of its longtime leader, Kim Il Sung, outlined his vision for a reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
The tone of the speech, in which he called for the two countries to "immediately stop slandering each other," and the offer of light-water nuclear reactors could help pave the way for the two Koreas to resume their dialogue, though it is not clear how the Communist government in Pyongyang will respond.
"If and when the North guarantees the transparency of its nuclear activities, we are ready to support their development of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, including light-water nuclear reactor construction, by providing them with the necessary capital and technology," Mr. Kim said.
"This could well become the very first joint project for national development -- leading to the establishment of a single community of the Korean people," he added.
In the agreement reached between North Korea and the United States on Saturday in Geneva, the North said that it would freeze or abandon activities that could lead to the production of plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. It also said that it would remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In return, Washington said it would move toward establishing diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and would arrange to provide light-water nuclear reactors to replace North Korea's existing graphite-moderated reactors, which produce more of the type of plutonium that can be made into weapons.
In his speech today -- on the holiday celebrated in both Koreas as the anniversary of the end of Japan's colonial rule -- Mr. Kim made clear that South Korea wants to play a central role in providing the light-water technology to the North, provided that the North agrees to be open about its nuclear program.
While South Korea had previously expressed its willingness to supply the reactors, Mr. Kim's speech today was the most direct and official offer.
Officials in Seoul said that the United States was leaning toward having the reactors, which are expected to cost $4 billion, supplied by South Korea rather than by Russia, as had been initially envisioned.
Some analysts say the government wants to play down the Geneva accord because South Korea was not directly involved in the negotiations. And some see the Geneva talks as an attempt by North Korea to isolate the South by dealing directly with Washington.
In his speech, Mr. Kim said he is ready for talks with the North but stopped short of calling for a rescheduling of the North-South summit meeting that had been scheduled for July 25 but was postponed after Kim Il Sung's death.
"Our doors are always open for dialogue with the North at any placeand any time," Mr. Kim said. He said the two sides must "expeditiously build up military trust so that the state of military confrontation can finally be ended."
The president maintained that the reunification of Korea, divided after World War II, must be gradual, with the governments cooperating economically before they join politically. This is consistent with South Korea's long-standing position on reunification.
The United States itself cannot provide the reactors because of laws prohibiting dealings with North Korea. Instead, Washington has hoped to put together a consortium that would include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to provide the financing and technology as well as the reactors themselves.
North Korea would prefer a Russian reactor because it has experience dealing with Russia and because it does not want to be dependent on technology from its enemy in the South.
North Korea apparently has not yet agreed to accept the South Korean reactors. Still, in an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Kang Sok Ju, North Korea's deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator in Geneva, said his government did not rule out South Korean reactors.