[EDITORIALS]Dialogue the only solution

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[EDITORIALS]Dialogue the only solution

The gap between the United States and South Korea over how to handle the North's nuclear threat raises concern. Washington and Seoul agree on the goal of a nuclear-free peninsula, but differ on how to manage the situation. If common ground is not attained the nuclear crisis might develop in unexpected directions. That is the worst scenario, something South Korea and the United States must avoid. The two countries should draw up detailed cooperative measures as soon as possible to enter negotiations with North Korea.

Pyeongyang hinted it would withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty; the United States is reportedly considering so-called tailored containment against North Korea. The situation has widened the gap between Seoul and Washington on how to deal with the North.

President Kim Dae-jung said yesterday at a cabinet meeting that "repression and isolation were never successful measures of handling communist states." Mr. Kim continued: "All efforts to open up through dialogue have succeeded." His remarks can be interpreted as opposition to the U.S. approach of a policy of economic containment toward the North.

Such a stance is also hinted by President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, and that is a serious problem. Mr. Roh, after a military briefing, said it is important not to let events develop into a war even if dialogue with North Korea is suspended and punishment is meted out.

The president and the president-elect are both emphasizing a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

The two leaders are responsible for preventing war on the peninsula, and reassuring the people of their safety. That is why they may have taken an approach that is a bit different from U.S. policy.

North Korea may misjudge that difference as a crack in the U.S.-South Korea alliance. If the North continues to heighten the level of its threat to the United States based on such an assumption, a serious crisis will develop on the peninsula.

North Korea may believe that Korean blood is thicker than the Washington-Seoul alliance. They might think the United States will withdraw its troops stationed here before they become hostages of inter-Korean strife. Such a course of action has been debated in the United States.

The president and the president-elect may bring about a real crisis on the Korean Peninsula by focusing too much on a peaceful resolution.

Thus, the government's top priority is confirming the immutability of the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance quickly and in the calmest manner.

The government must show restraint on actions that might irritate the United States and push the North into misjudgment. That will protect Korean national interest.

We firmly believe that war must not take place on the peninsula under any circumstances and that the peninsula must be nuclear-free. These principles square with the United States' national interest and global strategy. Dialogue is the only practical way to prevent war and a nuclear North.
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