[VIEWPOINT]Remember who our friends are

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[VIEWPOINT]Remember who our friends are

The new unification minister, Jeong Se-hyun, has recently made some strange comments about the North and weapons of mass destruction. Especially coming just before U.S. President George W. Bush visits Korea, the comments are likely to be another omen of turbulence on the Korean Peninsula.

The minister said during a round-table discussion on a Korean Broadcasting System television program that the North is armed with weapons of mass destruction, including biochemical weapons.

He said that it intends to use those weapons as diplomatic leverage in negotiations with the United States and as a means of earning hard currency. It will not, the minister said, use those weapons to threaten Seoul.

But the 500 ballistic missiles now already deployed in the North, and the fact that North Korea is said to be the world's third largest holder of biochemical weapons raises a question: If these weapons are not targeted at the South, where are they aimed at? Perhaps they are somehow intended for use against the North's other principal enemies, the United States and Japan, but most of them are pointed at the Republic of Korea, its government and its people.

The deep anti-U.S. sentiment among some Koreans and among officials of the current administration may have a serious, unfavorable effect on our U.S. diplomacy and long-term defense planning.

Pyeongyang outlined its plans to arm itself with weapons of mass destruction more than 20 years ago. The project continued apace even after the historic North-South summit of June 2000. The Central Intelligence Agency recently issued a report on the spread of weaponry. It included an analysis that Pyeongyang has continued its active search for the technology required for the development of nuclear weapons and has continued to sell its ballistic missiles and technology to nations in the Middle East.

Seoul should make clear its position on the alarming CIA report. It should either confirm or deny the assertions in the report and cite the grounds for its position.

The government should tell us whether it has more accurate and reliable information than the United States on developments in the North's military.

Many times we Koreans have heard rosy statements by the government that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has virtually acquiesced to the presence of the U.S. Army on the peninsula. But North Korean leaders have never publicly acquiesced to the American military presence on the peninsula, and have recently made tough remarks on the issue.

The Kim Dae-jung administration has made painful attempts to assure us that the North poses no military threat to the South, so the recent statements by the U.S. President Bush and his close aides blasting Pyeongyang must have displeased the government greatly.

President Bush said that Iran, Iraq and North Korea, are an "axis of evil." Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security adviser, and Colin Powell, the secretary of state, confirmed that Washington is ready to resume talks with Pyeongyang but that it will not overlook the real characteristics of the North.

The United States has drawn the support of its main allies in its war against terrorism, but there is a deep divide between Seoul and Washington on dealing with possible military threats from the North and weapons of mass destruction. That poses problems for the Washington-Seoul alliance. Seoul should consider carefully the effects of the post-Sept. 11 developments on the peninsula and how this philosophical split with Washington on North Korean intentions may propel events.

Seoul should focus on narrowing its differences with Washington during the upcoming meetings of the two presidents, instead of clinging to its sunshine policies of indulgent tolerance toward North Korea while asking for unconditional U.S. support.

The Korea-U.S. military alliance is important not only for military reasons, but also because it strengthens Seoul's overall diplomacy with other nations, including China.

We should not take lightly the fact that, among 190 nations around the globe, the United States is our sole military ally.


The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University.

by Lee Chung-min

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