- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

SEOUL South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun vowed yesterday to pursue changes in the long-standing military alliance with the United States, even as he pledged to coordinate with Washington on how to deal with with North Korea's nuclear program.
"The traditional friendship and alliance between [South Korea] and the United States must mature and advance," Mr. Roh said at his first press conference, in a hall of the National Assembly.
In Washington, President Bush telephoned Mr. Roh to "extend his warm congratulations" on his election victory and invited him to Washington for talks at "his earliest convenience," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Mr. Roh accepted the invitation, but no date was announced.
Mr. Roh said he would press forward with a campaign pledge to change the 1966 Status of Forces Agreement, the legal code governing U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea.
Mr. Roh owes his election victory to an anti-U.S. outcry that erupted after the acquittals in U.S. military courts of two American soldiers charged with negligent homicide in the road deaths of two South Korean girls.
The soldiers were cleared of the charge, but South Koreans believed the trials were unfair and that the soldiers should have been tried in a South Korean court.
It is not clear whether Mr. Roh is seeking a more wide-ranging review of the status of U.S. forces, such as force reductions, or simply South Korean right to try lawbreakers.
Mr. Roh, 56, a one-time human rights lawyer, was the candidate of the governing Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) of outgoing President Kim Dae-jung.
Mr. Roh vowed to build on Mr. Kim's "sunshine policy" of engaging communist North Korea, putting him at odds with the Bush administration, which has actively tried to isolate the North since Pyongyang's admission in early October that it had a secret nuclear-arms program.
"I will not make major changes to Kim Dae-jung's policies on U.S. relations, North Korea or foreign affairs," Mr. Roh said.
Both aides to Mr. Roh and senior Bush administration officials have rushed to proclaim that the alliance will remain strong.
Mr. Roh met with U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard briefly yesterday and also made a traditional visit to the National Cemetery in southern Seoul.
His five-year term officially begins in February. There was a curiously flat atmosphere on the streets of Seoul yesterday, despite the talk that the tone of the campaign marked a new era in South Korean politics.
The Korean financial markets barely moved, and the large crowds on the streets seemed more concerned with holiday shopping chores than with the presidential contest.
Leading South Korean newspapers said Mr. Roh will be given a chance to prove his policies, but some said he must curb some of his more provocative campaign statements and deal with vocal anti-U.S. elements among his supporters.
The Kim-Roh sunshine policy "might become a factor that estranges traditionally friendly ties with such allies as the United States," the liberal Kungmin Ilbo said.
Several leading business organizations here urged the president-elect to pursue pro-growth policies.
During the campaign, Mr. Roh promised "pro-worker" policies that would clip the power of South Korea's giant "chaebol" business conglomerates.
Political analysts here were still trying to understand Mr. Roh's win.
He edged out Lee Hoi-chang, 67, of the conservative Grand National Party despite the last-minute defection of a key ally and despite an unexpectedly low turnout of 70 percent, factors that were supposed to have favored the hawkish Mr. Lee.
"This was an electorate that knew in the end what it wanted," said Kim Sang-woo, spokesman for Mr. Roh, in a telephone interview.
"They are no longer satisfied with business as usual. Politics must have the necessary reforms in order to regain the trust of the people," Mr. Kim said.

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