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Roh Cautions U.S. on North Korea

Times Staff Writer

Without mentioning President Bush by name, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun warned Friday in Los Angeles that taking a hard line over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program could have “grave” consequences.

Koreans, who haven’t gotten over the trauma of the Korean War half a century ago, do not want another war on the peninsula, he told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council at the St. Regis Hotel in Century City.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons pursuit cannot be viewed as an instrument to attack ... or to assist terrorist groups,” Roh said. He said North Korea has not engaged in terrorism since 1987 and that there was no evidence to link North Korea to terrorist organizations now.

Roh, whose policy of “engagement” with the North has come under some criticism, said that dialogue was the only way to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

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In fact, he said, the United States is already on that course as it participates in six-party talks with China, Russia, Japan and the Koreas.

Roh said that his comments may not allay America’s fear and distrust of North Korea, but he believes the North’s recalcitrant ways, are, in part, attempts to get assurance from the West that its security would be protected. “North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons if it can discover the hope that its security will be assured,” the South Korean leader said.

Noting that North Korea is on its way to a free-market economy, Roh said he would like to see the United States declare a detente with North Korea -- as it did with China in the 1970s, despite the Cold War.

Nicholas Beck, a history teacher at San Fernando High School who attended Roh’s speech, said he was mystified by the president’s remarks.

“He seemed to imply that the North Koreans were defending themselves, but I was there in Korea the day the [U.S. Navy intelligence ship] Pueblo was captured [in 1968],” said Beck, who served in the U.S. Army in South Korea.

“I remember when they sent a platoon of assassins across the border. I remember when they landed a submarine off the shore of South Korea and disgorged a platoon of assassins that they never did find all of them.”

Beck said that the North Korea that Roh was describing was not the North Korea he knew.

David Kang and Chris Choe, Korean American student business majors at USC, said they thought the president seemed much too optimistic about negotiating with North Korea. They said Roh appeared to trust North Korea a little too much.

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After his talk, Roh met with USC faculty, and in the evening he was scheduled to attend a dinner hosted by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn at the Getty House.

Today, Roh is scheduled to meet with a group of young Korean Americans in the entertainment industry, and will host a reception for 350 Korean Americans, before heading for South America.

Roh is making a two-day stopover on his way to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile.


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