- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 5 (UPI) — South Korea's top security official Wednesday dismissed the possibility of a pre-emptive U.S. military attack on North Korea as "groundless anxiety."

The remarks came amid deepening crisis on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the interception of a U.S. spy plane by North Korean jet fighters over the weekend in international airspace between the peninsula and Japan.

But South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun played down Sunday's military face-off, saying it was part of North Korea's attempts to press the United States for one-on-one talks.

Asked whether the United States would use the military option to end the revived crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Jeong said that kind of a scenario is "nothing more than groundless anxiety."

"How can the United States ignore South Korea and go against its will in dealing with North Korea?" asked Jeong, citing their 50-year security treaty that rules out unilateral U.S. military moves without prior consultations with Seoul.

Jeong was speaking after U.S. President George W. Bush said military options could not be ruled out as a means of settling the standoff with North Korea.

Triggering further jitters here, the United States announced it was sending a dozen B-52s bombers and a dozen B-1 bombers to the western Pacific to counter the North Korean threat.

"There is nothing to be worried about because the U.S. official position is to try to resolve the issue peacefully and diplomatically, and discuss the matter later if the situation changes," Jeong said in a radio interview.

Jeong, Seoul's chief North Korea policymaker, said his country would stick to seeking a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff.

"We are closely cooperating with the international community to address the issue," Jeong said.

A senior government official told United Press International that South Korea would use high-level talks with North Korea scheduled for next month to persuade North Korea to give up the nuclear ambitions.

Facing growing international pressures, North Korea Wednesday made a fresh call for a non-aggression pact with the United States.

"What we need is a legal guarantee to be provided by a treaty as valid as international law," said Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the North's ruling Korean Workers' Party.

"The U.S. should not flee from its heavy responsibility for spawning the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula but promptly opt for direct talks with the DPRK (North Korea) to conclude a non-aggression treaty with the DPRK," it said.

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