- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 9 (UPI) — South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun suffered a pre-inauguration setback as his envoy returned empty-handed Sunday from a crucial mission to the United States over North Korea's nuclear crisis.

Roh, who takes office on Feb. 25, dispatched his close aid, Rep. Chyung Dai-chul, to the United States and Japan as part of pre-inauguration efforts to seek a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and make concrete security ties between South Korea and the United States.

But the envoy's week-long visit failed to produce any progress toward defusing the months-long nuclear standoff and healing divisions between the two allies on policies toward North Korea.

Still worse, the high-profile visit has meddled the issue over Seoul-Washington security ties by triggering controversy over the possibility of the withdrawal of 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea.

Roh, a former human rights lawyer, was elected on a strong wave of anti-Americanism here, which sparked concerns about the future of security relations between Seoul and Washington because he had showed a negative attitude on Seoul's long tradition of pro-U.S. policy.

The reformist leader, who once demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops, is a strong advocate of reconciliation with North Korea and dialogue as a way of resolving the nuclear crisis.

Chyung, a senior member of Roh's ruling Millennium Democratic Party, said during the Washington visit, he explained Roh's policies on North Korea and called for U.S. efforts toward 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 Chyung who led a six-member delegation.

But critics say the mission fell far short of the goals as the envoy failed to meet President George W. Bush. Chyung said he could not meet Bush as he was in Texas to attend a memorial service for the astronauts of the shuttle Columbia. Roh's letter to Bush was delivered to Vice President Dick Cheney, Chyung said.

As an indication of the envoy's failed mission, Bush warned he would not rule out military action against North Korea, saying "all options are on the table" action to curb its nuclear activities. The warning came just after the South Korean envoy left the United States.

In response, North Korea accused Bush of planning to invade the communist state and warned that a conflict will reduce the whole Korean land, including the South, to "ashes."

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 MDP said in a statement.

The visit touched off another controversy as Rep. Yoo Jay-kun, a member of the delegation, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had told the delegates that the United States was ready to consider a reduction of its 37,000-strong troops in South Korea if Seoul wanted.

But Chyung hotly denied Yoo's remarks, saying only the redeployment of U.S. troops here was discussed during the meeting with Rumsfeld.

The Seoul government also claimed that any discussion on the reduction of the American troops did not take place in during the visit. "We have not heard of such a thing," Defense Ministry spokesman Hwang Young-soo told journalists.

Despite the criticism over his pre-inauguration diplomatic activities, Roh said he would send his envoys to China and Russia, respectively, this week to discuss the nuclear issue.

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