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S. Korea's Roh Opposes Force to End North's Nuclear Program - 2003-02-19

South Korea's president-elect says he opposes military action to force North Korea give up its nuclear programs.

Roh Moo-hyun, who will be inaugurated South Korea's president next week, says a military attack on North Korea could engulf the entire peninsula in war.

He told business leaders that he would oppose any U.S. plan if it included an attack on North Korea in an effort to shut down its nuclear programs.

Concern has been growing around the world since October, when the United States accused North Korea of developing illegal nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has since withdrawn from a global non-proliferation treaty and restarted nuclear facilities that could produce weapons in violation of a 1994 accord.

The United States says it is committed to multilateral diplomacy to resolve the problem.

But North Korea is demanding formal security guarantees from Washington and has resisted all pressure to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Washington has stressed it has no plans to attack North Korea. But American defense officials are considering strengthening U.S. troops in the Pacific region as a warning to Pyongyang that it must comply with international agreements to remain nuclear-free.

On Tuesday, North Korea threatened to pullout of its 1953 armistice agreement with the South that ended fighting even though the Koreas still have no formal peace treaty. His position is a rare public show of disagreement between Washington and Seoul. The United States has been South Korea's staunchest ally since the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945.

Mr. Roh is seeking a new path for South Korea's relationships with its neighbor to the north, and its closest ally, the United States, according to Chun Hong-chan, a professor of political science at South Korea's Busan National University.

"I think what he meant by that is he is going to move somewhat away from the U.S.-South Korea alliance toward a middle position between the U.S. and North Korea," said Professor Chun.

Mr. Roh succeeds President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for organizing the first summit between the leaders of North and South Korea. Mr. Roh supports his predecessor's policy of engaging with impoverished North Korea.

One reason South Korean officials are wary of the idea of a military strike to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities is the risk of retaliation by Pyongyang. Seoul and its northern suburbs are within striking range of as many as 10,000 North Korean artillery pieces and rocket launchers.

North Korea has said several times in the past few months that if it is threatened it will strike at South Korea.