- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun yesterday said he would oppose any U.S. military strike against North Korea's prohibited nuclear-weapons programs, saying the South must not be afraid to express differences with Washington if it means preventing a war.
"It is impossible not to have differences [with the United States], and I cannot agree to attacking North Korea," Mr. Roh told a group of labor leaders, according to South Korean press accounts. "We can fully cooperate, but not on this issue."
President Bush has said repeatedly he has no plans to invade North Korea in the escalating dispute about Pyongyang's clandestine nuclear programs.
A slew of administration officials, led by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, told Congress yesterday that the United States is pursuing a multilateral, diplomatic solution, although Mr. Bush has not ruled out any option.
The United States for more than a half-century has guaranteed the security of South Korea against the heavily armed North and currently stations 37,000 troops in South Korea. The White House this week confirmed that the Pentagon is discussing reducing the U.S. military contingent in South Korea and elsewhere.
Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the department's point man on East Asia, told Congress that the U.S. and South Korean approaches on the North largely "overlap."
"We can work out the differences we do have as we have in the past," he said, adding that Mr. Roh has made gestures to improve relations and ease tensions about the U.S. troop deployment on the Korean Peninsula since his election victory. U.S.-South Korean tensions played a major role in the presidential campaign.
Mr. Powell told the House Budget Committee that the United States has firmly rejected North Korean attempts to hold bilateral talks about its illicit nuclear program, saying Mr. Bush was insistent that South Korea, Japan and other regional players be involved.
"We have to find a way to broaden the dialogue," Mr. Powell said. "China is threatened, Russia is threatened, South Korea is threatened."
North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil-yon, yesterday attacked the United States for pushing the nuclear dispute into the U.N. Security Council, reiterating that it can be solved only through negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang not in a setting that involves other nations.
Although the United States said yesterday it would not press for punishing U.N. sanctions against North Korea now, Pyongyang's envoy said it didn't trust Washington and demanded that the Security Council blame the U.S. government for the nuclear crisis.
There were other developments on many fronts in the fast-moving North Korean crisis:
North Korean officials, responding to CIA assertions Wednesday that they already have capacity to deliver a nuclear strike on a U.S. city on the West Coast, said they had the ability to strike U.S. assets anywhere. "The strike force of the Korean People's Army will take on the enemy wherever he is," Foreign Ministry official Ri Kwang-hyok told the Agence France-Presse news service.
U.S. officials said they did not expect an upcoming meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the North Korean crisis to consider economic or other sanctions against North Korea, a course of action Pyongyang has said it would consider a declaration of war.
The U.N. meeting follows Wednesday's vote by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer the North's violation of international atomic safeguards to the Security Council.
China and Russia, both considered critical to any settlement of the Korean Peninsula crisis, yesterday criticized the decision to pass the nuclear issue on to the Security Council. Russia, which abstained on the IAEA vote, said the move was "premature and counterproductive" and could close off a diplomatic solution.
Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said in an interview that his country was prepared to wage a pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang if it determined the North was preparing to attack with its ballistic missiles. "It is too late if [a missile] flies toward Japan," he said.
Mr. Roh's comments continue a rocky transition period for the one-time human rights lawyer, who campaigned on a platform of strong support for outgoing President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with the North. The presidential campaign was marked by a surge in anti-American protests.
Anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea, a key U.S. ally, rose after two U.S. soldiers involved in the traffic fatality of two Korean teenage girls were acquitted of negligent homicide charges in U.S. military courts in November.
That and the divergence of Washington and Seoul on policy toward North Korea fueled protests in Seoul.
Mr. Roh has made efforts to smooth over relations with Washington, but has also made comments that have raised doubts about his policies.
A Roh aide was quoted as saying the incoming president hoped to serve as a neutral mediator between Pyongyang and Washington. A delegation sent by Mr. Roh to Washington earlier this month was heavily criticized in South Korea for failing to deliver a single, consistent message about the new president's policies.
Mr. Roh sent more conflicting signals in yesterday's remarks to the South Korean labor leaders, complaining that U.S. and South Korean press accounts had exaggerated his differences with Washington.
But at the same event, according to the South Korean Joong Ang Daily newspaper, Mr. Roh told his audience that "Koreans should stand together, although things will get difficult when the United States bosses us around."
He said a diplomatic solution was preferable, in part because he would lose control over South Korea's military in the event of war because it would be subordinated to the U.S. forces.
The newspaper quoted leading members of the opposition Grand National Party as saying Mr. Roh was using "insane arguments" and threatening traditionally close U.S.-South Korean security links.
Soo-dong O, press spokesman for the South Korean Embassy in Washington, said Mr. Roh's comments were not meant to question the fundamental alliance between Seoul and Washington.
Mr. O said the president-elect's three principles for resolving the crisis are: demanding an end to the North's nuclear-weapons programs, pursuing peace through dialogue and ensuring that South Korea has a role in the negotiations.
But some U.S. lawmakers yesterday expressed frustration with what they said was rising popular and official anti-Americanism in South Korea.
"We're there to help them," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, told Mr. Kelly. "If they don't want us, we'd be more than happy to get out and spend our money elsewhere."

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