- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 24 (UPI) — South Korean President Roh Moon-hyun dismissed allegations Monday that after Iraq North Korea would be the next target of U.S. military action.

In an effort to calm growing security jitters, Roh said the Bush administration had repeatedly pledged to seek a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

After the U.S.-led allied forces launched military campaigns against Iraq last week, concerns were rapidly growing in South Korea that the United States may turn its focus to North Korea after the war had been won. Local media reported that Washington had sought approval from Seoul for a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea's nuclear facilities.

South Korea's anti-war activists have expressed fears that if North Korea were to be the next U.S. target, it would be a catastrophe for the Korean peninsula.

But Roh dismissed the military strike scenario against the communist neighbor as "inaccurate and groundless," according to his spokeswoman.

"The president expressed concern about inaccurate and groundless speculation that the United States could strike North Korea once the war in Iraq ends," Song Kyung-hee told a news conference.

"I have met U.S. government official in a responsible position, who repeatedly told me that North Korea is different from Iraq, and (its nuclear issue) should be resolved peacefully," Song quoted Roh as saying in a meeting with his senior aides and advisers.

Roh plans to send Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan to Washington Wednesday to discuss North Korea with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. leaders, officials said.

North Korea, which is part of U.S. President Bush's "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran, has been locked in a standoff with Washington over its suspected nuclear ambitions.

A U.N. envoy, on returning from a visit to North Korea, said Pyongyang was concerned about Washington's intentions after Iraq and was preparing for a possible war with the United States.

"(North Koreans) are watching (the war in Iraq) very carefully and with deep concern, and questioning what this means in terms of the U.S. ultimate intentions toward them," Maurice Strong, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told a Beijing news conference. He traveled to Pyongyang last week as part of U.N. efforts to mediate the North's nuclear crisis with the United States.

North Korea also threatened to cut off reconciliation projects with South Korea, in an angry response to Seoul's support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq and its strengthened security posture against possible North Korean provocations.

Pyongyang said it had canceled governmental talks with the South scheduled for this week, blaming Seoul for raising tensions with the heightened alert "under the pretext of the Iraqi war."

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