Amid mounting tension over North Korea's possible launch of a long-range rocket in October, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday urged Pyongyang to cease provocative acts and curb its pursuit of atomic weapons to allow for peace on the peninsula and a better future for its people.
At the 70th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, Park said that North Korea should choose the path of reform and open its doors to the world to improve life for its people, seeking to bring international attention back to the reclusive regime as the Syrian crisis dominates the global agenda.
"The DPRK would do well to choose reform and opening rather than additional provocations, and to endeavour to free its people from hardship," said Park.
"Pushing ahead with provocations, including its nuclear development programme, will undermine the values of humanity's peace espoused by the international community and the UN," she said.
Park was raising her concerns on human rights conditions in North Korea for a second time, after her debut speech at the UN last year. She called on the international community to address the North Korean human rights issue, citing the report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea published in the same year.
It remains to be seen how North Korea would respond to Park's attempt to highlight its human rights situation on the international stage ― an issue that Pyongyang has been as sensitive about as it is to global condemnation of its nuclear development.
The South Korean leader also asked the international community to turn its attention to North Korea's nuclear disarmament, highlighting a successful deal reached over Iran's nuclear programme in July,
Using the word "peace" 30 times in her 23-minute speech, Park said North Korea was the last hurdle for the global society to open a nuclear-free world.
Park was the seventh keynote speaker at the annual assembly, after Russian President Vladmir Putin. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong, head of Pyongyang's delegates to UN, was absent when Park delivered her speech, according to reports.
"Resolving the North Korean nuclear issue should be accorded the highest priority if we are to uphold the integrity of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and live up to the aspirations of humanity for a world without nuclear weapons," Park said.
Park also criticised North Korea for threatening provocative actions that would violate Security Council resolutions and that could thwart the planned reunion of separated families.
"This will not only do harm to the hard-won mood for inter-Korean dialogue, but also undermine the efforts of the members of the six-party talks to reopen denuclearization talks.
"We must no longer use political and military reasons as excuses for turning a blind eye to humanitarian issues, in particular the reunion of the separated families."
The remarks came amid a mix of hope and concern growing on the Korean Peninsula after a breakthrough inter-Korean dialogue in late August, when the two sides agreed to defuse military tensions and hold reunions of separated families from the 1950-53 Korean War.
Despite the reconciliatory mood that followed the talks, North Korea said earlier this month that it would launch a rocket to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party.
Seoul and Washington speculate that Pyongyang's plan is an attempt to test its ballistic missile technology. If North Korea goes ahead with a launch, the regime is likely to be slapped with further sanctions by the UN as well as international condemnation from Washington and even from Beijing, its traditional ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping in a summit with US President Barack Obama last week that he opposes any action that violates UN Security Council resolutions in an apparent warning against North Korea.
The South Korean leader also presented her vision of unified Koreas, stressing that it would bring peace and international prosperity.
"A peacefully unified Korea will be a thriving democratic nation free of nuclear weapons and upholding of human rights.
"What is more, a unified Korean Peninsula, both as a symbol of peace in our global village and a new engine of growth ― will contribute greatly to peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and beyond."
Ending her four-day trip to the UN, the president attended an event to promote Korean culture in the heart of New York City and also to thanked local supporters who have been active in spreading Korean culture.