- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 13 (UPI) — South Korea said Thursday it supported a U.N. watchdog's resolution to send the North Korean nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, but opposed sanctions on its neighbor.

The South also pledged to step up its diplomatic efforts toward a peaceful solution to the standoff.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency decided Wednesday to refer the nuclear issue to the Security Council, citing North Korea for "non-compliance with its obligations" in nuclear safeguards agreements. The 15-nation council has the power to take binding steps against North Korea, including economic sanctions.

North Korea has warned that it would treat any sanction as "a declaration of war," and no longer recognize the Security Council. South Korea has expressed concerns that sanctions may backfire and result in catastrophe on the Korean peninsula.

The IAEA measure was "appropriate based on principles and procedures" since North Korea has rejected IAEA inspections of the its suspected nuclear activities and pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We hope the U.N. Security Council can prevent the situation from deteriorating and can handle the issue in a way that encourages a diplomatic solution," the statement said.

In a separate statement, Vienna-based South Korean Ambassador Choi Young-jin said his government extended "full support" for the IAEA resolution, saying the measure was an "inevitable result from North Korea's withdrawing from the global nuclear arms-control treaty."

But South Korea reaffirmed its position against economic sanctions or military action against the North, stressing the need of more time to allow diplomacy to resolve the crisis.

"The (Seoul) government will play an active role so that diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue at bilateral and multilateral levels can speed up," the ministry statement said.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Seoul would be "vigorously" seeking ways for the security council to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically. He pointed out that any sanctions would make a peaceful resolution more difficult to reach.

"It is inappropriate to discuss sanctions (on North Korea) for now because chances still remains that the issue can be resolved diplomatically," the official said told United Press International.

"The security council cannot decide to impose a sanction as far as China and Russia remain opposed to the measure," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As part of diplomatic efforts, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun dispatched two envoys Wednesday to China and Russia, both permanent council members with veto power, to seek their supports for a peaceful resolution.

China and Russia are seen as being among the few states with any leverage with the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Another Seoul official said the government has tried to contact with Germany, this month's president of the security council, to ask its role for a diplomatic resolution.

South Korea also has used dialogue channels with North Korea to call for its concession. Seoul's delegates to the inter-Korean economic cooperation meeting being held in Seoul urged their North Korean counterparts to take steps to address the ongoing nuclear standoff, saying they would determine the future shape of inter-Korean economic exchanges.

On Thursday, Roh, in a meeting with labor union leaders, pledged to seek "more economic cooperation and dialogue with North Korea to avoid a war on the peninsula."

North Korea made no immediate response to the IAEA resolution, but is expected to angrily respond with warnings of further steps to raise the stake in the standoff, which may include an actual move to restart frozen nuclear reactors.

"North Korea is likely to woo actions from China and Russia against sanctions, while seeking direct talks with the United States," said Ko Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University.

Shortly before Wednesday's IAEA board meeting, Pyongyang's state-run media accused the United States of setting in motion plans to invade North Korea.

"The United States is turning to the use of force, its second option, now that its plan to put political and diplomatic pressure on the DPRK (North Korea) is bound to go busted," said Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper for the ruling Workers' Party.

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