- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

SEOUL — South Korea warned yesterday that a further escalation of nuclear tensions by North Korea would disrupt joint economic projects that could bring sorely needed investment to the communist North.

The warning by South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun indicates a toughening of Seoul’s stance toward North Korea in tandem with the United States, Japan and Australia, which have been increasing pressure on the North to abandon its development of nuclear weapons.

“If the North worsens the nuclear situation, it will inevitably affect exchanges and cooperation between South and North Korea,” Mr. Jeong said in a speech yesterday.

Mr. Jeong said South Korea was willing to push ahead with political reconciliation and economic cooperation with North Korea, as agreed upon in an inter-Korean summit three years ago tomorrow. But he added that nuclear tensions should ease before such projects can gain speed.

The speech came as thousands of South Koreans rallied to protest the U.S. military presence on the anniversary of the deaths of two girls struck by a U.S. military vehicle.

The largest protest was in the capital, Seoul, where about 20,000 people, many holding candles gathered at a plaza near the U.S. Embassy, chanting “Punish the murderous GIs” and “Withdraw U.S. troops.”

Although the incident had sparked intense anti-American demonstrations last year, the Seoul demonstration was far smaller than organizers had hoped for.

In recent weeks, Japan and Australia have tightened inspections on North Korean ships suspected of smuggling narcotics, counterfeit money and missile technology — believed to be the regime’s three main sources of hard currency.

Until now, South Korea has emphasized dialogue and shunned talk of pressure or sanctions against the North.

Meanwhile, North Korea yesterday urged South Korea to work for the peaceful reunification of the divided peninsula without “relying on outsiders.”

Kim Yong-sun, North Korea’s point man on relations with South Korea, made the appeal in a statement he issued ahead of the June 15 anniversary of the inter-Korean summit.

Mr. Kim’s statement, reported by the North’s official news agency KCNA, called on Koreans to strive for national independence “no matter how the situation may change and how adverse the environment may be.”

South Korea has been pursuing a policy of reconciliation with North Korea since their summit. But that policy has been challenged since U.S. officials announced last October that North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

The Koreas have agreed to connect a rail line at their border tomorrow, the first such link since the last train crossed the border shortly before the 1950-53 Korean War. The South also plans to build an industrial park in the impoverished North.

Also yesterday, North Korea and South Korea’s Hyundai business group agreed to resume a cruise ship tour to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain on June 25. The North had earned hundreds of millions of dollars from the joint tourism project before it suspended the tour in April, citing fears of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

On Thursday, the two Koreas are scheduled to begin a new round of temporary reunions of Koreans separated by the war.

Last month, South Korea agreed to provide North Korea with 400,000 tons of rice this year to help ease chronic food shortages that have killed hundreds of thousands of people. But it later said it would delay shipments if North Korea escalates tensions.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have been building two nuclear power plants in North Korea in exchange for the North’s promise in the 1994 agreement to freeze its nuclear program. But the project’s fate is in doubt now.

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