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Roh Committed to Diplomatic Resolution of North Korean Nuclear Crisis - 2003-06-09

South Korea's president has told Japanese lawmakers he is committed to diplomacy to resolve the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Mr. Roh is wrapping up a four-day state visit to Japan, which did not resolve differences over what to do should North Korea ignore international pressure on the issue.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says his country will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, but stressed his commitment to achieve this goal through dialogue.

Addressing Japan's parliament on the final day of his state visit, Mr. Roh says that North Korea must abandon its nuclear ambitions and needs to come up with a way to live in harmony with its neighbors. He says if North Korea chooses that path, Japan, South Korea and the international community will support Pyongyang.

Mr. Roh's commitment to "diplomacy only" remains at odds with Japan's approach, which is more closely aligned with the United States. Both Washington and Tokyo have warned that economic sanctions might have to be imposed if North Korea does not abandon its nuclear weapons program - currently in violation of several international accords.

This difference was reportedly papered over in a joint statement issued Saturday by President Roh and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Media reports in Tokyo and Seoul say South Korea rejected a Japanese proposal to include language that said "further steps" would be taken if diplomatic negotiations fail.

North Korea has said it would interpret any economic sanctions as a "declaration of war."

Japanese media have criticized Mr. Roh for taking a soft approach with Pyongyang. Sunday the country's largest circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri, questioned whether Japan and South Korea would be able to closely coordinate policy on North Korea.

The two nations, along with the United States, will get another chance at that beginning Thursday. Foreign policy and security officials of the three countries will meet in Hawaii to discuss North Korea's nuclear program in anticipation of future talks on the subject with Pyongyang.

The nuclear issue has dominated the U.S.-Asian alliance since October when Washington accused North Korea of having a covert weapons program. Since then, North Korea has refused to negotiate the dispute without specific incentives and has taken a series of steps to retreat from its commitments to be nuclear free, including withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On bilateral issues during his speech to parliament on Monday, Mr. Roh received the loudest applause from Japanese politicians when he spoke about lingering tensions between Koreans and Japanese because of Japan's brutal occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century.

Noting that he is the first South Korean leader born after World War II, Mr. Roh said he hoped for more honest dialogue about what happened in the past so there can be genuine reconciliation.