SEOUL A special envoy of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun returned empty-handed yesterday from a mission to the United States to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Mr. Roh, scheduled to take office Feb. 25, sent close aide Chyung Dai-chul to the United States and Japan as part of pre-inauguration efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and solidify security ties between South Korea and the United States.
But the envoy’s weeklong visit failed to produce any progress toward defusing the nuclear standoff and healing divisions between the two allies on policies toward communist North Korea.
Still worse, the high-profile visit muddied the future of U.S.-Korean security ties by triggering talk about a withdrawal of the 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea.
Mr. Roh, a former human rights lawyer elected on a wave of anti-Americanism, is a strong advocate of reconciliation with North Korea and dialogue as a way of resolving the nuclear crisis.
Mr. Chyung, a senior member of Mr. Roh’s ruling Millennium Democratic Party, said in Washington that he had explained Mr. Roh’s policies and called for the United States to seek a peaceful resolution to the nuclear tension.
“We expressed our hope that the United States plays a more proactive role in engaging in dialogue with North Korea,” said Mr. Chyung, who led a six-member delegation.
But he was unable to meet with President Bush, who flew to Texas to attend a memorial service for the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia. A letter from Mr. Roh was delivered to Vice President Richard B. Cheney instead.
Mr. Bush, speaking just after Mr. Chyung left the United States, further disappointed the South Koreans by saying he would not rule out military action against the North. “All options are on the table,” he said.
In response, North Korea accused Mr. Bush of planning an invasion and warned that a conflict would reduce the Korean Peninsula to “ashes.”
Mr. Roh’s party said it feared the Bush administration might be getting emotional in dealing with the nuclear standoff.
“We cannot help expressing concern as to whether emotions have interfered with U.S. efforts to resolve the North’s nuclear problem,” the Millennium Democratic Party said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Yoo Jay-kun, a member of the South Korean delegation, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had told the delegates the United States was ready to consider a reduction of its 37,000 troops in South Korea if that was what Seoul wanted.
Mr. Chyung hotly denied that, saying only that the redeployment of U.S. troops was discussed during the meeting with Mr. Rumsfeld.
The Seoul government also insisted there had been no discussion during the trip of reducing the U.S. troop presence. “We have not heard of such a thing,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Hwang Young-soo.
Mr. Roh said he would send envoys to China and Russia this week to discuss the nuclear issue.