SEOUL South Korean software mogul-turned-presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo will seek to restart six-party talks aimed at denuclearising the Korean peninsula if he is elected on May 9, he said in a written interview with Reuters.
The six party talks involving North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia collapsed in 2008 following a rocket launch by North Korea.
Tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula amid fears North Korea could conduct another nuclear test and with Pyongyang threatening to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier ordered to waters off Korea as a warning to the North.
"While maintaining a two-track policy with sanctions and dialogue and strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries, I will seek six party talks," said Ahn, who is currently polling in second place ahead of the elections.
"By resuming the six party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, before it becomes impossible to resolve the issue, as provisional interim measures, I will pursue a freeze on the North's nuclear weapons programme, a moratorium on nuclear tests, and return of IAEA inspectors to the North and restoring monitoring cameras," he said.
North Korea expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in 2009 after declaring it was pulling out of the 2005 six-party agreement to freeze its nuclear programme.
"Also four-party talks with North Korea, the United States and China will be sought to establish a denuclearised Korean peninsula and a peaceful regime," he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned the leaders of Japan and China on Sunday to discuss the latest North Korean developments.
Ahn, 55, has been recognised for his tougher stance on national security than the liberal frontrunner for president, Moon Jae-in. Ahn has been in second place in polls behind Moon, but has recently at times overtaken the liberal candidate.
On the economic front, Ahn said he would beef up laws to punish white collar criminals, limit pardons for corporate criminals guilty of graft and bring about more "realistic" regulations for holding companies in order to curb the massive hold conglomerates, called chaebol, have on Asia's fourth-largest economy.
"Reforming the chaebol is not the goal; it's a tool and process to achieve the target that is economic development through the recovery of fair market competition," said Ahn.
He added it was also inappropriate at this time to think about pardoning ex-South Korean leader Park Geun-hye who is currently in a holding facility and awaiting her corruption trial after being impeached over an influence-peddling scandal.
Park's impeachment triggered the presidential election.
Ahn declined to clarify his stance on whether he would draw up an extra budget if he won the election. Frontrunner Moon has said he will draft an additional budget worth over 10 trillion won ($8.83 billion) to boost the economy if he is elected.
Ahn was a top contender for the 2012 presidential election but withdrew his candidacy to consolidate voters against Park, who won.
Trained as a medical doctor, Ahn rose to national fame when AhnLab, a provider of computer antivirus software, became a household name.
($1 = 1,133.0000 won)
(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)