[EDITORIALS]Mr. Roh’s unsettling remarksIn a speech in Los Angeles, President Roh Moo-hyun made an unusually blunt objection to the possibility of an embargo and the use of military force against North Korea to resolve the nuclear crisis. Mr. Roh said that North Korea is arguing that it has been developing nuclear arms to defend itself against external threats, and that its argument has some merit. His remarks highlighted the delicate difference between Washington and Seoul in their views on North Korea. Concerns are rising about the context of Mr. Roh’s remarks. He was sending this message just before his summit with U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday, the first such meeting since Mr. Bush’s re-election.
We are extremely concerned that Mr. Roh has suggested that he understands the North’s reasons for possessing nuclear arms. Such a stance could be viewed as his acceptance of the defensive nature of North Korea’s nuclear program. That is clearly a different position from that of the United States, which has been fighting the proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction as its top mission. The international community may feel skeptical about South Korea’s policy toward the North’s nuclear program.
What’s more, North Korea may misjudge the situation, believing that the South agrees with its claim of self-defense. Such a misunderstanding may bring about unwanted consequence from the North Korean end. Making such a suggestive remark on the nuclear issue is inappropriate for resuming the six-nation talks. It could also have serious repercussions for South Korea-U.S. relations in the future.
It is hard to evaluate this, because we do not know to what extent Mr. Roh has coordinated his policy with the Bush administration. Mr. Roh also made it clear that the nuclear crisis must be resolved peacefully; he stressed the principles of a nuclear-free peninsula and verifiable dismantlement of the North’s nuclear arms program.
Still, it is undesirable to emphasize the difference in the two countries’ views of the North’s intentions, because concerns linger about the recent disharmony in U.S.-South Korean relations. At Saturday’s meeting with Mr. Bush, Mr. Roh must clear up all such concerns and achieve fruitful diplomacy by reasserting his confidence in the alliance between Seoul and Washington.