- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 10 (UPI) — South Korea and the United States have agreed to establish a joint governmental consultative body to deal with North Korea's nuclear threats, officials said Monday.

The two allies will also set up a separate committee to discuss their decades-old security ties soured in the wake anti-American sentiment in South Korea, a top official at the presidential transition committee said.

The agreement was made at a meeting last week between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's special envoy, Rep. Chyung Dai-chul.

Chyung led a high-level delegation that traveled to Washington as part of pre-inauguration efforts to seek a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and make concrete security ties between South Korea and the United States. Roh is to take office on Feb. 25.

The accord came amid growing signs of policy differences between the two countries in handling of the months-long nuclear standoff sparked by revelations North Korea has continued efforts to develop nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 accord.

The United States has pushed to bring the nuclear issue before the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions. North Korea says it would consider any sanctions to be war, warning military conflict would devastate South Korea, too.

South Korea opposes the imposition of sanctions against North Korea, stressing the need for time to allow diplomacy to work to resolve the crisis.

On Monday, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Suk-soo said he believes North Korea does not possess nuclear weapons, contradicting U.S. assertions Pyongyang already has one or two atomic bombs.

In the joint consultative body, the two sides will "intensively" discuss the nuclear crisis and coordinate their policies toward North Korea, said Yoon Young-kwan who had joined the delegation. Yoon is the chief of Roh's transition team on reunification, foreign affairs and security.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea security alliance, the two countries also agreed to set up a special civilian-government committee to discuss ways to forge their closer security ties.

"The committee will help quell concerns that their decades-long security alliance may be undermined under Seoul's new leadership," a senior Foreign Ministry official told United Press International.

Roh, who was elected president with promises of less reliance on the protection of the United States, has vowed to put the U.S.-South Korean relationship on a more "equal" footing.

In another effort toward closer ties, Cheney will visit South Korea in April to discuss with Roh on security ties.

"Cheney will visit South Korea around April 16 and discuss matters of mutual concern with Roh," the ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

President George W. Bush is also considering sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to Seoul to congratulate Roh on his inauguration later this month, he said.

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