Sun, Nov 14, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US' hardline stance not helpful: Roh

NUCLEAR CRISIS North Korea is preoccupied with its security and the US should press for a new round of talks, the South Korean president said


South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun on Friday issued a strong warning to the US that a hard line US policy over North Korea's nuclear weapons would have "grave repercussions."

Roh, speaking on a two-day visit to the US, urged Washington instead to resume multilateral talks with North Korea and to reassure the communist state that it did not face an external threat and that the crisis would be resolved peacefully.

"There is no alternative left in dealing with this issue except dialogue, and a hard line policy will have grave repercussions and implications for the Korean peninsula," Roh said.

"We may think of an economic embargo, but this would not be a desirable solution," the president said in what he conceded were "unusually blunt" remarks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council think-tank.

The use of force should also be restricted as a strategy, as nobody should force South Koreans, who rebuilt the country from the ashes of war, to risk war again, he said.

North Korea, suspected of having produced or of being capable of producing nuclear weapons, joined Iraq -- invaded by US forces last year -- and Iran on the "axis of evil" that US President George W. Bush unveiled after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US.

The Bush administration's tough policy towards North Korea has put it at odds with Seoul in the past. Roh's comments Friday focused attention on how Bush, re-elected last week on an aggressive foreign policy platform, ultimately aims to tackle the thorny problem.

Roh said he did not believe North Korea posed either an imminent military threat or a terror threat to the world and that threatening it or pursuing a policy of containment could backfire.

"North Korea has not perpetrated acts of terror or engaged in assisting them since 1987, in fact we are unable to find today any evidence today linking North Korea to terrorist organizations," he said.

He warned however that the impoverished and highly secretive regime was preoccupied with threats to its security and survival, making it potentially volatile if pushed into a corner.

Instead of threatening military force or pushing for North Korea's total collapse, Roh urged the US and its partners to return to the negotiating table.

North and South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia were to have held the fourth round of six-nation talks in September but negotiators from the Stalinist North failed to turn up.

Roh said the North's intransigence over demands that it dismantle its nuclear program was not linked to any intention to use the weapons, but was instead an appeal for US reassurances that Pyongyang was not under threat of attack.

"It will abandon its nuclear weapons if it can discover that its security will be vastly assured and that its reform and opening will succeed," the president told the audience, urging wary Americans to "trust" North Korea and to allow talks with the isolated regime to resume.

He said North Korea felt uneasy over pursuing the economic and social reforms it urgently needs and wanted to deter any threat of attack during that process.

"Since reform and opening can be internally disquieting and unsettling ... North Korea has reason to be extremely leery of threats emanating from the outside," Roh said, adding that there was "considerable rationality" behind North Korea's feeling threatened.

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