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S. Korean president-elect says he wouldn't agree to U.S. attack

Friday, February 14, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's president-elect said Thursday that he would not go along with the United States in any attack on North Korea to halt its nuclear program, aides said.

The United States has said it does not plan to invade North Korea, but the comment by President-elect Roh Moo-hyun highlighted his willingness to voice potential differences with his country's No. 1 ally.

It also raised a possible obstacle if President Bush ever considers a strike on North Korea's nuclear facilities, rather than a full-scale invasion.

Bush says he wants a peaceful solution to the standoff, but has also said "all options are on the table."

Roh, who takes office Feb. 25, said in a meeting with labor leaders that he cherished the alliance with Washington and that some media were exaggerating differences between him and U.S. leaders over the North Korean nuclear issue.

"We must honor the alliance with the United States and cooperate and try to coordinate our views," Roh was quoted as saying by Chung Sye-kyun, chief policy-maker of Roh's Millennium Democratic Party.

"It is impossible not to have differences and I cannot agree to attacking North Korea. We can fully cooperate, but not on this one."

Roh's comments came a day after the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, decided to refer the North Korea nuclear issue to the Security Council, setting in motion a process which could lead to sanctions against North Korea.

The United States said Thursday that sanctions are not an option for now. The deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Williamson, said the Bush administration wants to pursue a diplomatic solution.

North Korea has said it would consider sanctions a "declaration of war." China and Russia underlined on Thursday that they oppose sanctions and want Washington to resolve the standoff through direct talks with Pyongyang -- something the United States has been reluctant to do.

"Just because we agreed that the IAEA will report this to the Security Council does not mean we think the Security Council should be involved right now," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.

"We hope that the North Korea issue can still have a political settlement by means of the two sides talking," Zhang said. "We hope the international community can be more patient."

China, which holds a seat on the agency's board of governors, gave tacit approval to the IAEA decision in voting Wednesday. Russia and Cuba criticized the move, saying it would detract from diplomatic efforts.

The nuclear agency's decision was a "premature and counterproductive move that doesn't help to establish a constructive and trusting dialogue between the interested parties," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the agency would continue to press for a peaceful solution. He suggested that the Security Council would stop short, for now, of punishing the already impoverished country with sanctions.

South Korea also hoped that the Security Council would vigorously pursue a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute.

"We hope the U.N. Security Council can prevent the situation from deteriorating and can handle the issue in a way that encourages a diplomatic solution," said the South Korean Foreign Ministry in a statement.

The North Korean media did not comment Thursday but an official attending a U.N. conference in Geneva said the IAEA did not have jurisdiction.

"We strongly resent the resolution adopted by the board of IAEA...even though it is not in a position to do so. Therefore, we have nothing to do with it (the IAEA) anymore," said So Se Pyong, of the North Korean delegation at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

While showing no signs of easing the nuclear tensions, North Korea engaged in talks with South Korea in Seoul on Thursday aimed at building cross-border railways and an industrial park in North Korea where South Korea wants to relocate garment, footwear and other labor-intensive plants.

Separately, a South Korean Red Cross delegation traveled to North Korea's Diamond Mountain resort Thursday for three days of talks on building a permanent reunion center for family members separated by the Korean War.

The joint projects are byproducts of a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000. But exchanges have slowed in recent months because of the nuclear dispute.

The standoff began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program. Washington suspended fuel shipments, and the North retaliated by expelling U.N. nuclear monitors, taking steps to restart frozen nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

North Korea says it is reactivating its facilities to generate badly needed electricity, but U.S. officials say the equipment could be used to produce atomic bombs.


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