Gaston Sigur, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said here Tuesday that he believes the South Korean military will accept the results of a December presidential election even if the opposition wins.
"I firmly believe--strongly believe--that the duly elected president of this country in the coming free election will take his seat as the president of Korea," Sigur said at a press conference in Seoul.
President Chun Doo Hwan, who took power in a 1980 coup, has pledged to step down in February after a seven-year term. He has endorsed Roh Tae Woo, the presidential nominee of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, as his successor. Roh, who is also the party president, is now visiting Washington.
Either Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, or Kim Dae Jung, South Korea's other top opposition leader, is expected to be Roh's main election rival.
Many South Koreans, however, believe that top military leaders might respond with a coup if the winner is Kim Dae Jung, who has spent most of the past 16 years in prison, exile or under house arrest for his opposition activities. There has also been speculation in Seoul that action might be taken some time before the end of October to set aside the planned mid-December presidential election.
Sigur discounted both possibilities Tuesday and reiterated U.S. opposition to any intervention by the military.
"We believe that the way to solve problems that arise in the political process is not through military intervention," Sigur said. "We believe that is not the way to go, and it is very difficult to foresee any kind of a situation in Korea which would necessitate anything of the sort.
"As far as the rumors of something happening in September and October, I would say that what I received universally here from all the political leaders of both the major parties with whom I spoke was that the democratization process in Korea is on track, it will stay on track and it will be handled in such a manner as not to upset anything. There was little expectation from anyone with whom I spoke that there would be any major disturbances this month or next month which could derail the democratization process."
Sigur, who was visiting Seoul on his way back to the United States after attending a meeting in Moscow, met with Chun and other government leaders and also with Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung.
Sigur described the two opposition leaders as "very upbeat about developments here" even though they expressed "certain criticisms of certain things."
"On the whole, they felt things were developing in a good way," Sigur said. "They expressed optimism about their own futures."
In his meetings with the two Kims, and at the press conference, Sigur stressed that Roh's current visit to the United States, which included a meeting with President Reagan on Monday, "is in no sense an endorsement of Mr. Roh's candidacy."
"The United States does not do such a thing as that and we do not have any favorites in this election campaign," Sigur said. "I have also said here to both Mr. Kim Young Sam and Mr. Kim Dae Jung that this was a fact. Also, whoever the candidate is from the opposition party, if he chooses to visit the United States in a private capacity, we will make every effort to ensure that he receives the same treatment officially as did Mr. Roh Tae Woo."
Sigur was in Moscow for consultations with Soviet officials to discuss East Asian and Pacific affairs, an annual procedure that he said began two years ago.
Sigur said that the discussions included the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and measures to relax tensions between North and South Korea.
"I did urge that the Soviets use their influence to have the North Koreans return to the negotiating table, to accept some of the confidence-building measures which have been proposed by the Republic of Korea, and in accordance with the proposals of the International Olympic Committee, to participate in the Olympics in 1988," Sigur said.
The International Olympic Committee has proposed that five events--archery, table tennis, women's volleyball, men's cycling and some preliminary soccer matches--be held in Pyongyang. North Korea has demanded that it be allowed to host more events.