- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Today, South Korea (ROK)will stand firmlywiththe United States in Beijing to hold North Korea accountable for its unacceptablenuclearweapons development program(s) and to seek a peaceful solution. Feb. 25 also marks the first anniversary of the inauguration of South Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun, who Koreans elected in December2002.Unfortunately, some U.S. pundits misunderstood this election due to exaggerated reporting of Korean anti-Americanism. What a difference a year makes.

The first year of the Roh administration has seen significantmaturationof democracy in Korea and in theU.S.-ROKalliance. Under Mr. Roh’s leadership, South Koreans dispatched forces abroad to assist the United States, jointly developed plans for major adjustments to U.S. Forces-Korea (USFK) and continue to stand foursquare with Washington to achieve a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. These positive developments have produced a healthier ROK-U.S. alliance relationship than in the past.

Make no mistake; the RMH administration well represents South Koreans in assigning high value to the ROK-U.S. alliance. The administration, like its U.S. counterpart, understands that the Korean peninsula is the strategic center of Northeast Asia, if not Asia writ large, where the interests of China, Japan, Russia and the United States intersect. The ROK-U.S. alliance is a crucial component in achieving the national security objectives of both countries. This is true in the near-term with respect to North Korea and in the long-termafterNorth Korea ceases to be a threat.

The Roh administration has closely coordinated with the Bush administration to adjust USFK to meet current and future requirements. U.S. forward-based troops in and north of Seoul will soon begin moving to excellent new bases south of Seoul. The adjustment will be good for both countries from a strategic political-military perspective, an operational combat perspectiveandasocial civil-military perspective.

Of all people on earth, Koreans understand that freedom is not free. The ROK-U.S. alliance was forged out of the bloody Korean War that again demonstrated Korea’s strategic importance. As a faithful ally, South Korea has subsequently deployed forces abroad to fight side-by-side with U.S. forces. Tens of thousands of ROK troops reinforced U.S. forces in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. In 2001, when al Qaeda declared war on the United States and the civilized world, South Korea immediately declared its intention to stand firmly with the United States in the war against transnational terrorism, subsequently deploying forces to Afghanistan, for example.

Under Mr. Roh’s leadership in May 2003, South Korea deployed troops to Iraq, but unexpected insurgency required many more ROK troops to help win the peace and rebuild that troubled country. On Feb. 13, 2004, the Korean parliament approved deploying 3,000 more troops to Iraq, despite concerns by some Koreans. The ROK force will be the third-largest allied contingent, after the United States and United Kingdom, when it is in place this spring. Koreans stand proudly with their U.S. friends in a difficult theater, while also hoping their deployment will help reduce the need to mobilize more U.S. reservists.

With respect to the immediate North Korean nuclear program, which Mr. Roh unequivocally calls “intolerable,” the Roh administration has stood firmly with the United States to find a peaceful solution, while also addressing at least three South Korean domestic realities. Millions of South Korean voters worry about their relatives trapped in North Korea and want to alleviate their suffering. This factor, plus a sense of tragically estranged kinship that many South Koreans hold for North Koreans, constrains them from supporting policies that they fear might hurt millions of ordinary, innocent North Koreans and not end Kim Jong-il’s repressive regime. Lastly, South Koreans are mindful of Korea’s 1,200-year history as a unified nation until August 1945. The tragically unavoidable division of the nation at the dawn of the Cold War has been a cross to bear, but in the post-Cold-War era, Koreans naturally yearn to reconcile with their brethren in the North and over time form a peacefully unified democratic state.

South Koreans believe that a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue is both necessary and possible. Mr. Roh conscientiously represents South Koreans, who believe that patient diplomacy to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and step-by-step cultural,commercialand diplomatic measures to improve inter-Korean relationsareprudentapproaches. In the meantime, however, South Koreans understand the intolerable implications of North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state. The Roh administration stands firmly with the United States in peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

The second round of Beijing nuclear talks today may not immediately end the North Korean nuclear issue, but will hopefully constitute an important step toward achieving a peaceful resolution. Americans can count on their South Korean allies and Mr. Roh in working this and other vital alliance issues that also include waging the war against transnational terrorism, achieving peace in Iraq and establishing an ever more healthy ROK-U.S. alliance relationship.

Soo-Dong O is the Minister for Public Affairs for the Korean Embassy.

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