Ahead of a summit this week with US President George W. Bush, South Korea's leader acknowledged minor differences with the US on how to deal with North Korea's nuclear ambitions, but said the two allies were united on the principle of resolving the crisis peacefully.
Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun will almost certainly take a different tack than in 2001, when Bush and Roh's predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, met in Washington. That summit exposed sharp differences in how the two allies viewed the North.
Even though the policy differences remain, Bush and Roh are likely to reaffirm their military and economic partnership when they meet for the first time.
"Previous South Korea-US summits have been burdened by high expectations," Roh told reporters on a chartered Korean Air passenger plane before arriving in New York on Sunday.
"I hope the talks will confirm our common approach to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, and also the importance of the South Korea-US alliance," he said.
Roh said the summit on tomorrow won't yield "spectacular" results, and added: "On matters of detail, there are different points of view. But on the big matters of principle, we are in accord."
"The mere thought of a military conflict with North Korea is a calamity for us," Roh told The Washington Times in an interview in Seoul last Friday.
"If possible, we think it is much more reasonable for us to induce North Korea to reform itself and to open up to the outside world," he said.
The sense of urgency about North Korea's military threat is far greater now than when Kim met Bush and spoke in favor of engaging the North. Bush said at the time he didn't trust North Korea and would suspend missile talks with it, embarrassing the South Koreans and infuriating North Korea.
US resolve has hardened in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. American officials say they want a peaceful end to the North Korean crisis, but some in the US administration believe only a change of government in Pyongyang will fully resolve the problem.
Tension over the nuclear dispute spiked last month during the Beijing talks, when, according to US officials, North Korea claimed to have nuclear weapons and threatened to use or export them, depending on US actions.
During the talks, US officials said North Korea claimed it had reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods -- a move that could yield several atomic bombs within months.
Roh, on his first trip to the US as president, said he would discuss ways the US and South Korea can cooperate to peacefully resolve the North's nuclear issue.
"The mere thought of a military conflict with North Korea is a calamity for us," Roh told The Washington Times. "If possible, we think it is much more reasonable for us to induce North Korea to reform itself and to open up to the outside world."
Still, a solution to the nuclear dispute does not appear imminent.
Roh visits as intelligence officials, lacking information because North Korea expelled onsite nuclear inspectors, probe whether the North is manufacturing plutonium.
South Korea is eager for the US to talk to North Korea, and US officials did so in Beijing last month. But Washington demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear programs, and the North says it will only do so in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid.