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S. Korean President Rejects Anti-American Criticism


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says critics have unfairly described him as anti-American. He told businessmen in Seoul he views strong relations with the United States as necessary - even though the two countries have occasional disagreements over military issues.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says his sentiments toward the United States have been widely misconstrued. Mr. Roh tells South Korean business leaders in Seoul that despite what critics may think, he is not a pro-North Korean, anti-American leftist.

The South Korean president and his Uri party won election in 2002 on promises of increased cooperation with North Korea, and greater independence from the United States in setting foreign and defense policy.

Critics accuse him of neglecting South Korea's alliance with the United States as he pursues reconciliation with North Korea, which is attempting to build nuclear weapons in violation of numerous international agreements.

In his comments Tuesday, Mr. Roh made it clear he has very significant differences with the United States.

The president says he flatly rejected suggestions by U.S. officials three years ago that efforts to get North Korea to end its nuclear programs might require a military option. He says he took a strong stance against any use of military force against North Korea, in the interest of South Korea's economic stability. He adds there will be no war on the Korean peninsula while the South opposes it.

The United States stations about 30,000 forces in South Korea, to deter North Korea from repeating its 1950 invasion. Many experts say a philosophical difference exists between the U.S. government - which perceives the North as a threat, and South Korea - which tends to view the North as a desperately impoverished relative.

Mr. Roh says he will "never break" with the United States, despite occasional disagreements. He says he has fulfilled his presidential duty to maintain a strong relationship with Washington - even when doing so did not fully agree with his personal views.

Mr. Roh says if he were not president, he would have opposed South Korea's deployment of military forces to support U.S. operations in Iraq. He says he agreed to dispatch the troops to Iraq in the interest of good relations with Washington. However, he says he cut the original U.S. request for 10,000 personnel down to 3,000.

Even though South Korean troops serve mainly in a non-combat reconstruction role in Iraq, the deployment is very unpopular here. Seoul plans to reduce the mission by 1,000 troops next month.

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