- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

SEOUL — South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun meets President Bush at the White House today in an effort to resolve disputes over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the future of American forces on the peninsula.

In recent weeks, disagreements between the two longtime allies have become embarrassingly public, highlighting a growing divergence of views that threatens an alliance forged during the Korean War half a century ago.

“South Korea wants to give North Korea time, but the U.S. patience is running out. From the U.S. point of view, North Korea became a nuclear power and South Korea has not taken this issue seriously enough,” said Seoul-based consultant Michael Breen.

“Without being open about it, the U.S. feels that South Korea is over engaging with North Korea and thereby undermining the allied effort to force North Korea to come back to [nuclear] talks,” said Mr. Breen, author of the recent book titled “Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.”

The U.S.-South Korean summit, the fourth since February 2003, is expected to produce a clear message of solidarity and to focus on coordinated policies to coax the North into abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

This week, the Communist government hinted it would return to six-nation talks in the near future, U.S. and Chinese officials say. The talks, which include China, Japan and Russia, last were held in June 2004.

In the last round of talks, North Korea was offered energy and other economic assistance if it agreed to give up its nuclear development efforts and allow outside inspections of its atomic facilities.

The United States has emphasized that Pyongyang would receive aid and security guarantees only after it abandons its nuclear ambitions in “a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”

North Korea has rejected the offer, calling it a ploy to disarm the North.

The differences between Washington and Seoul, however, go beyond North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

“There will be no fundamental differences in view if the U.S. focuses solely on dealing with weapons of mass destruction,” said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor at Dongkuk University in Seoul.

Mr. Koh, however, said that South Korea fears the United States is using the nuclear threat to push for regime change in the North.

If that is true, Mr. Koh said, the United States and South Korea “simply cannot see eye to eye because South Korea would be the one to suffer most of the consequences.”

Another sore point is redefining the role of U.S. forces stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

“There is no consensus on the issue of strategic flexibility for [American troops] yet, because it presupposes that in case of a military dispute between China and the U.S., South Korea will be dragged into it regardless of its opinion,” said Kim Ki Jung, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Mr. Roh has said there are differences of opinion between the two allies. But before his departure for Washington yesterday, he told the U.S. and South Korean military commanders that Washington and Seoul agreed on most things.

Analysts think North Korea has enough plutonium to build six to eight atomic bombs.

This week, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan told ABC News that Pyongyang already had the nuclear capability to defend itself and is building additional atomic bombs.

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