- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

From combined dispatches

SAN FRANCISCO — South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun left the United States yesterday after a visit in which he acknowledged that he sidestepped contentious issues in a summit with President Bush, choosing instead to dwell on the strengths of their alliance.

Mr. Roh dismissed criticism from some supporters in South Korea who hoped he would be more assertive in his meeting with Mr. Bush in Washington on Wednesday. During his election campaign last year, Mr. Roh said he would put the U.S.-South Korean relationship on a more equal footing. Some of his campaign comments were viewed as anti-American.

“If you come to reach a good agreement, do you think it will be helpful to intentionally bring up what the Americans dislike?” Mr. Roh told reporters on a chartered Korean Air jet that flew to San Francisco en route to Seoul.

Mr. Roh met executives of the U.S. high-tech industry before boarding his plane for a flight to Seoul after a crucial trip that including stops in Washington and New York and was dominated by the North Korean nuclear crisis.

After the 30-minute meeting Wednesday at the White House, Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh vowed they “will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea” and, if need be, will consider “further steps” to deal with the Stalinist regime’s nuclear proliferation.

Standing shoulder to shoulder in the White House Rose Garden, the two leaders pledged to work toward a peaceful solution to the standoff with Pyongyang, which continues its bellicose rhetoric against its neighbor and the United States.

The two leaders declared in a joint statement after their 45-minute Oval Office meeting that “increased threats to peace and stability on the peninsula would require consideration of further steps.” White House officials last night would not elaborate.

The deliberately vague wording in the statement could be cited by U.S. officials as outlining a case for the use of military force, while the South Koreans could contend they have not backed use of armed force.

The statement was more aggressive than one Mr. Roh had made in an interview last week with The Washington Times.

Before his trip, Mr. Roh said in Seoul that he would call for Mr. Bush to use only peaceful means to disarm North Korea, exempting the communist nation from the new U.S. doctrine of pre-emption to deal with regimes that threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction.

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