Roh Moo-hyun has become South Korea's ninth president, pledging to create a new era of regional prosperity that hinges on peacefully ending the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs. However, just hours earlier, his government confirmed that North Korea had test-fired a missile into the sea, escalating the peninsula's current tensions.
In his inaugural speech, President Roh Moo-hyun said North Korea's efforts to develop nuclear weapons are a grave threat to world peace. He says the North must choose between its nuclear ambitions and receiving international aid and recognition.
Then Mr. Roh outlined his vision for security on the Korean Peninsula under his "policy of peace and prosperity." Without ever mentioning that North Korea had test fired a missile the day before, he stressed that disputes must be resolved through diplomacy and trust. "Military tensions in any form should not be heightened," he said. "We will strengthen coordination with the United States and Japan to help resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue."
In a ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries - including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, Mr. Roh unveiled a grand vision for regional economic growth. He pledged to work toward uniting China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula in a Northeast Asia economic grouping much like the European Union. Doing so, he said, required signing a peace treaty with communist North Korea. "In order to bring about a genuine age of Northeast Asia, the structure of peace must first be institutionalized on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "We have to change the peninsula into a land that sends out messages of peace to the rest of the world."
However, in the 50 years since the Korean War ended with a truce, North Korea has refused to sign a treaty with the South. And it has developed a pattern of breaking most international accords it has signed. Most recently, the United States said in October that Pyongyang admitted violating international treaties by building a banned nuclear weapons program.
Since then, Pyongyang has begun to reactivate old nuclear facilities, withdrawn from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and threatened to pullout of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting on the Korean Peninsula without a peace treaty.
While the United States says it wants to resolve the North Korean issue through diplomacy, it does not rule out imposing sanctions on the North or a military attack to destroy Pyongyang's nuclear facilities.
President Roh says South Korea is grateful for its military alliance with the United States that has guaranteed its security for 50 years. But he says he now wants the bilateral relationship to be more balanced and he will not hesitate to air differences with Washington - including the current nuclear dispute.