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Pacific Allies Committed to Diplomacy with N. Korea - 2003-03-05

Pacific allies - the United States, South Korea and Japan - say they remain committed to diplomacy to end a dispute over North Korea's banned nuclear programs. But Seoul and Tokyo are increasingly worried as the United States beefs up its regional military presence and has begun publicly acknowledging it will consider all options to resolve the matter.

South Korea and Japan are once again urging restraint amid rising tensions between the United States and North Korea over nuclear issues.

The calls come after the United States said Tuesday it will deploy 24 long-range bombers to the Pacific Island of Guam. The move is seen as a warning to Pyongyang not to underestimate American military capabilities despite a possible war with Iraq. But Air Force Lieutenant Tom Wenz, a spokesman at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, says the move is not a preparation for military action. "The moves are not aggressive in nature and deploying these additional forces is simply a prudent measure to bolster our defensive posture and as a deterrent in the region."

Pentagon officials say the decision was made last week and has nothing to do with Sunday's incident in which North Korean fighters intercepted an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan.

The White House has called the incident provocative and reckless.

Diplomacy is still the first choice for dealing with months of North Korean moves to reactivate its nuclear facilities in violation of international agreements. But President Bush has begun to say that force may be a last resort option, as diplomacy has yet to produce results.

Japan government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda Wednesday played down the idea that tensions were on the rise. He says Mr. Bush's remarks mean that military intervention is just one option, and Tokyo is strongly optimistic the United States will first try many other avenues to resolve the issue diplomatically.

South Korea's new administration however is starting to differ with Washington. President Roh Moo-hyun dismissed Sunday's plane incident as predictable since there was increased U.S. surveillance of North Korea's nuclear activities. In an interview with Britain's Times newspaper he called on the United States "not to go too far."

The United States has assured it allies it would not take any action without consultation.

Meanwhile, the United States and South Korea continue their annual joint military exercises - which North Korea says is more evidence it may be attacked. Pyongyang is again demanding a non-aggression treaty with the United States before it will discuss it abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

The United States has ruled out this option as well as direct talks with Pyongyang. Instead Washington says there should be a multilateral approach to the North Korean nuclear threat and to get Pyongyang to keep its commitments to the global community.