- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

SEOUL — Analysts reacted skeptically yesterday to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s U.S. summit, saying investor fears that he was partial to labor outweighed positive White House signals about how to deal with North Korea.

Mr. Roh and President Bush vowed Wednesday in Washington to halt the North’s nuclear aims but papered over differences about how to disarm the communist state.

Analysts broadly welcomed the summit’s geopolitical direction. Yet as the men met, South Korea settled a strike at the world’s third-busiest port, Pusan, by agreeing to labor demands.

“There were deep worries about relations,” Shin Sung-ho, head of research at Woori Securities, told Reuters news agency. “The summit helped to ease such concerns.”

South Korean newspapers, which have tended to be critical of Mr. Roh’s policies toward Washington and Pyongyang, are expressing nervousness about finding a peaceful way to stop the North’s nuclear program.

“We should be content to view this summit as a good starting point,” today’s edition of the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said. “But it’s not time yet to breathe a sigh of relief.”

The English-language Korea Times said in an editorial, “Now the question is how to translate into action the successful agreements through close cooperation between the two countries with the help of other countries in the region.”

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Mr. Roh at the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Bush said, “We’re making good progress toward achieving … peaceful resolution … in regard to North Korea.”

The two presidents, who had spoken several times by telephone since Mr. Roh was inaugurated in February, did not debate tough questions that might arise if diplomacy with the North failed. Instead, they focused on getting to know each other, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Bush described Mr. Roh as “an easy man to talk to,” and Mr. Roh said the U.S. president had dispelled his concerns.

“Now I return to Korea with only hopes in my mind,” Mr. Roh said before dining with Mr. Bush in the White House.

Mr. Roh left yesterday morning for meetings with business leaders in San Francisco and a tour of Silicon Valley before flying back to Seoul today.

Lee Won-ki, first vice president of Merrill Lynch in Seoul, interpreted the summit to mean a pre-emptive strike on the North’s nuclear complex was less likely.

Paik Jin-hyun, a professor at Seoul National University, said Mr. Roh had helped dispel concerns about his youthful anti-Americanism.

“But to strengthen the trust between the two countries, he should show he is actually practicing what he says,” Mr. Paik said.

Park Young-ho, at the Korea Institute for National Unification, agrees, saying Mr. Roh has the pragmatic view that U.S. support is vital.

China yesterday praised the joint summit statement as reflective of broad international consensus that the North Korea issue be resolved peacefully.

“The attitude of the two sides makes clear once again that the international community advocates resolving the current Korea nuclear issue via peaceful and diplomatic means,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in Beijing.

Pyongyang has yet to respond to the summit, but is unlikely to applaud the no-compromise nuclear stance.

“The two sides agreed to make the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue a priority,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “This will also arouse complaints from North Korea.”

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