- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

SEOUL — A day after the United States urged South Korea to take an active stance against what it contends are North Korea’s illicit financial activities, Seoul refused to say whether it would take action and made clear it opposed any attempt at regime change in Pyongyang.

“When it comes to the North Korean regime, raising issues about it or pressuring it or sometimes wishing for its collapse, on that position of some Americans, we do not agree,” South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said in a press conference yesterday.

“If the U.S. government tried to solve the situation through that process, there might be a rift or a difference of opinion between the two governments.”

He added that whereas both governments had officially agreed to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue, there was, however, no dispute.

Mr. Roh’s comments came one day after the U.S. Embassy released a statement in which U.S. officials requested Seoul join action against what it says are illicit financial activities by the North Korean government.

Some here think the U.S. move is part of a strategy to squeeze Pyongyang by cutting off its funding sources.

By “some Americans,” Mr. Roh appeared to be referring to hard-liners in the Bush administration who favor toppling North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il.

Mr. Roh refused to respond to the U.S. accusations on North Korea.

“A detailed review needs to take place … fact-finding and consultation between the two governments is necessary,” he said. “I don’t think it is now time for the Korean president to express an opinion on this issue. It is quite risky for the [Korean] president to get into this directly and draw a conclusion.”

Also yesterday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement in which it said that the U.S. Embassy’s press release on Tuesday was “inappropriate,” and did not accurately represent the results of talks between U.S. and Korean officials.

In its release, the U.S. Embassy said it had “urged” South Korea to take action against the North Korean transactions. The ministry denied being asked to take any concrete steps.

Analysts think that the reason for a U.S. Treasury team’s 10-day Asian tour was to present Asian capitals with evidence of North Korea’s financial crimes, pressuring them to act.

But given that there has been evidence of Pyongyang’s activities for years, the chances of Beijing or Seoul exerting pressure at the insistence of a frustrated Washington appears minimal at present.

“South Koreans feel that quiet diplomacy is the way to go with North Korea,” said Michael Breen, the Seoul-based author of a biography of Mr. Kim. “The Americans believe that if you are nice to the North Koreans, they will abuse you, but if you are tough, you might make progress. It’s a classic carrot-and-stick dispute.”

There have been cracks in the Seoul-Washington “blood-forged alliance” since President Bush was inaugurated in 2000: His administration’s North Korean policies have contravened the engagement policies promoted by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung from 1997-2002, and by Mr. Roh currently.

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