- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

SEOUL — Attitudes toward North Korea have gotten tougher here after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s U.S. visit, in which the new leader said the impoverished North should stop making atom bombs or risk losing aid.

Less than a week after Mr. Roh returned home, one public-opinion poll showed that 88.5 percent of those surveyed agreed that the two should be linked.

The South Korean president will take a three-day seaside break later this week after saying yesterday he felt a “sense of crisis” because of social unrest and even mused he might not be able to carry on as the country’s leader.

“I am experiencing great difficulties. The state function is being paralyzed as all parties are pushing their interests forward by force,” Mr. Roh told a group of civic leaders in comments confirmed by the presidential Blue House.

“I feel incompetent as president and a sense of crisis that I will not be able to perform my presidential duties,” he said.

The poll results published in the Korea Times come from 1,000 people questioned before and after Mr. Roh’s weeklong visit.

The trip included meetings with President Bush in Washington and with global business leaders in New York and San Francisco.

Mr. Roh’s public statements during the visit also coincided with growing disillusionment in the South over a decade spent aiding the North with food and humanitarian supplies only to face a second nuclear weapons crisis in as many years.

“Because of North Korea’s bad behavior, the president is becoming tougher,” said Scott Snyder, Korea program director for the Asia Foundation in Seoul.

“What Roh did is move from the left to the mainstream,” said Mr. Snyder, who tracks South Korean polling data.

Just a few months ago, a little more than half the South Koreans would have said the nuclear and aid issues should be connected, Mr. Snyder said.

North-South talks in Pyongyang were deadlocked yesterday with both sides trading barbs.

South Korean media pool reports from Pyongyang described a “war of nerves” that kept officials from opening a second day of economic talks, Reuters news agency reported.

South Korea wants to discuss the crisis, while the North wants food, fuel and cash from the South.

Today, Mr. Bush meets Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at his Texas ranch to discuss what to do next about North Korea.

Both South Korea and Japan backed the United States in the war against Iraq and together they host the vast majority of the American forces based in East Asia.

Like South Korea, Japan has begun to take a tougher line against the North — with Mr. Koizumi’s government pushing the limits of the nation’s pacifist constitution should the crisis escalate out of control.

The shift of opinion in South Korea follows a sharp drop in anti-American demonstrations that swept the nation last fall. They were sparked by the accidental deaths of two teenage girls run over and killed by U.S. troops.

Mark Surdick, a missionary in his 30s from Stillwater, Okla., said Koreans approach the North based on “we-are-one-people” emotion, more than on logic.

People say the North Koreans are “our brothers,” Mr. Surdick said. Yet drunken drivers kill children every day, and “you don’t hear about that.”

At about the same time as the military accident, a North Korean gunboat had entered a South Korean fishing ground with guns blazing in a battle that ended with casualties on both sides.

With a nuclear crisis raging since an October admission by the North it was making fuel for nuclear bombs, Mr. Roh for the first time publicly warned the North of consequences.

“Exchanges and cooperation, except for some specific humanitarian assistance, will be linked to the developments on the nuclear issue,” he told reporters on the final leg of a three-city U.S. tour.

His supporters came away disappointed. Protesters this week managed to temporarily block Mr. Roh from attending a ceremony to honor students killed in the city of Kwangju during a 1980 uprising against military rule.

Liz O. Baylen contributed to this report.


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