&#91EDITORIALS&#93Reckless talk from Roh

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[EDITORIALS]Reckless talk from Roh

President-elect Roh Moo-hyun made a remark yesterday that can be misconstrued by both North Korea and the United States. This is extremely worrisome. Regarding the North Korean nuclear crisis, Mr. Roh said that South Korea should convey its position to the United States even if doing so broadens the distance between the two countries. And he said that South Korea would continue to provide large-scale aid to North Korea.

"The media say South Korea's stance differs from that of the United States," Mr. Roh said in a remark targeted at the Korean media. "If we did not differ from the United States, then would you rather want war?"

The statement is interpreted as suggesting that Mr. Roh believes that the United States will indeed wage a military attack against North Korea and that the Korean media are covering the crisis with the presumption that war is inevitable. One could try to understand the remark as demonstrating resolve to prevent a war, since Mr. Roh will shortly become responsible for protecting the lives of the South Korean people. But our frank response to Mr. Roh's understanding of the situation is that it is appalling.

First, one wonders what kind of notification Mr. Roh has obtained from the United States regarding the likelihood of a military attack against North Korea that causes him to see a widening gulf between the views of South Korea and the United States as inevitable in the interest of preventing a war. As far as we know, the American position is that it will do its utmost to peacefully resolve the nuclear crisis but that if all should fail, then a military attack becomes a possibility.

Accordingly, South Korea and the United States, based on their strong alliance, should focus their diplomatic energy on peacefully resolving the crisis. Whether Mr. Roh's vilification of the United States is in our national interest or is constructive for resolving the crisis remains a question. If he cannot accept the priorities that have guided our national interest, Mr. Roh should reveal whatever information he has at his disposal. Only then will the Korean people be able to make a "resolute decision," to quote Mr. Roh.

Another issue that confuses us is Mr. Roh's remark that investment in North Korea should continue, even if it means unilaterally handing over money and goods in return for nothing. Because there is the possibility of a diversionary move from the United States, Mr. Roh said, we should make a "resolute decision" even if it means hard times for the South Korean economy.

We do not wish to dispute Mr. Roh's desire to place priority on the principle of one Korea. But North Korea is not only threatening us with its nuclear development but also threatening the United States with the possibility of a preemptive attack. Critics say Mr. Roh failed to consider the possibility that his open support for continued economic aid could encourage North Korea's bad behavior. Had he attached the condition that the aid would continue provided that North Korea gives up its nuclear ambitions, his words could have been constructive and he could have secured understanding from the South Korean public.

Mr. Roh's understanding of the media is also distorted. The president-elect may not be happy with the way South Korea-U.S. relations have been covered recently. But it remains a question what aspect of recent media coverage gave Mr. Roh the idea that the media would be accepting of a war on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean media strongly oppose another war on the Korean Peninsula.

We also believe that a strong alliance between South Korea and the United States is a must if we are to effectively deal with the nuclear crisis -- that is, if we are to prevent nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and prevent a war. Only then would North Korea forget about its reckless designs, and only then would we be able to prevent a possible military attack on North Korea by the United States. Mr. Roh should explain the reason why he interpreted the Korean media coverage of the crisis as he did. Only then would the media be able to reflect on mistakes they may have made.

We would like to believe Mr. Roh made his remarks with a firm belief that there should never be another war on the Korean Peninsula. But he has to think about what he should not say as president-elect, as well as what he should say.

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