South Korea's president has warned of "friction" with the United States if Washington continues to pursue forceful measures against North Korea. President Roh Moo-hyun made the comments a day after U.S. Treasury officials sought - but apparently failed to get - Seoul's support in punishing North Korea for alleged financial crimes.
President Roh said he opposes what he called "some forces" in the United States that favor putting pressure on North Korea to force the collapse of its communist regime. Mr. Roh says such action would result only in "friction and disagreement" between South Korea and the United States.
But he emphasized that for now, Seoul and Washington are united in seeking a peaceful resolution of the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Seoul also said Wednesday that talk of differences between Seoul and Washington over North Korea is "an exaggeration."
Diplomatic efforts to convince North Korea to voluntarily abandon its nuclear programs have been stalled since November. Pyongyang Wednesday reiterated its demand that the U.S. lift sanctions imposed in September because of the North's alleged money-laundering and counterfeiting activities.
The North Koreans say they will continue to boycott six-nation nuclear disarmament talks while the sanctions are in place. Washington says the financial crimes issue is separate from the nuclear dispute.
South Korea, which follows a so-called "Sunshine Policy" of engagement and cooperation with the North, has at times differed with the more aggressive policies of the Bush Administration.
Differences emerged again Tuesday after a senior U.S. Treasury delegation briefed South Korean officials on North Korea's alleged financial crimes and the sanctions. The U.S. said in a statement that it had urged Seoul to take what it called "similar steps."
But while Seoul says it will cooperate with international efforts to fight financial crimes, it appeared to distance itself from its ally's punitive action against the North.
On Wednesday, South Korea's Foreign Ministry denied that the U.S. delegation had asked South Korea to act on the issue. But the U.S. Embassy in Seoul says it stands by its statement.
Mr. Roh declined to comment on whether South Korea believes U.S. assertions that Pyongyang is involved in money laundering and the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. He said only that officials must investigate the matter.
Also Wednesday, Mr. Roh said South Korea would seek talks aimed at reaching a formal peace agreement with the North, to replace the ceasefire that ended the Korean War in 1953 and is still in place. Without a peace pact, the two Koreas remain technically at war.
Mr. Roh also told reporters he would seek an agreement this year with the U.S. to allow Seoul to take over command of its own troops during wartime.
Under arrangements established during the Korean War, the U.S. military would have wartime control over all troops in South Korea, including the South Korean military. The United States currently has some 30,000 troops deployed in the country.