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US, Seoul Agree on Need for Diplomacy to Resolve N. Korea Nuclear Dispute - 2003-02-25


United States Secretary of State Colin Powell says he and South Korea's newly-inaugurated president, Roh Moo-hyun, agree that diplomacy is needed to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Powell says he assured the South Korean leader the United States will not act unilaterally in dealing with Pyongyang.

In a meeting just after Roh Moo-hyun was sworn in as the ninth president of South Korea, Secretary of State Powell told him Washington has no plans to use military force to destroy North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

Mr. Powell told reporters in Seoul Tuesday the United States and South Korea agree diplomacy is the best way to curtail Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

"I don't think there should be any concern that the United States is on the verge of entering into some kind of conflict with North Korea, far from it," said Mr. Powell. "President [George W.] Bush has repeatedly said we are interested in a peaceful solution."

His comments appear to counter the idea South Korea's commitment to diplomacy and American statements that other options could be considered were creating a rift in long-time U.S.-South Korean alliance.

In his inaugural speech Tuesday, President Roh pledged to build trust and use transparency to end the nuclear dispute, create a peace between North and South Korea and open the way for a North Asian economic alliance, comprising China, Japan and the entire Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Roh, said it will be up to North Korea to choose between building nuclear weapons or embracing security and economic assistance. "If [North Korea] renounces its nuclear development program, us and the international community will offer many things that it wants," he said.

Tensions have been high since October when the United States accused Pyongyang of secretly developing nuclear arms. Since then North Korea has openly reneged on several international accords to remain nuclear free.

But North Korea's number two leader assured the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Malaysia Tuesday that the nuclear program is strictly peaceful, for now. Kim Yong Nam said his country's military-centered policy is protective in the face of a hostile U.S. policy.

Mr. Powell's description of a firm alliance between Washington and Seoul may help soothe jitters that arose early Tuesday, when South Korea reported that Pyongyang had test-fired surface-to-ship missiles. Mr. Powell was not concerned about this development.

"It seems to be a fairly innocuous kind of test," said the U.S. diplomat. "We have known for several days that they had made a declaration, a notice to mariners, that such a test might be coming."

The missile test did not deter Mr. Powell from announcing that the United States would donate 40,000 tons of food to North Korea immediately. He said Washington would consider sending an additional 60,000 tons later. Last year, the United States was the largest aid donor to the impoverished North.

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