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Many South Koreans Want US to Listen to Seoul's View of North Korean Crisis - 2003-02-24

As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Seoul, many South Koreans are saying he needs to listen closely to their government's views on the crisis with North Korea and the presence of U.S. troops. Many people say their country should change its relationship with the United States.

Many South Koreans are quick to say they are not anti-American, and they want U.S. military bases to remain in the country. But, they say, the United States must pay more attention to South Korean views. A Seoul housewife says the relationship between South Korea and the United States is not balanced, in Washington's favor and that the United States must change its behavior.

Seoul and Washington have been allies for nearly 60 years. U.S. troops led the United Nations force that defended the South from North Korea in the Korean War, and about 37,000 U.S. troops remain in the South.

While many South Koreans say the American presence has helped keep peace for 50 years, some say the accord that allows the bases to remain, the Status of Forces agreement, is not fair. Anger erupted last year when a U.S. military court acquitted two soldiers charged with the deaths of two schoolgirls, run over by a U.S. armored vehicle.

Thousands of people marched in Seoul and demonstrated in front of U.S. bases to protest the verdict. They demanded that the Status of Forces Agreement be changed, so that South Korean courts could try U.S. soldiers suspected of committing crimes while on duty. The United States says it will not consider such a change.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is visiting Seoul to attend the inauguration of the country's new president, Roh Moo-hyun to discuss the international dispute over North Korea's illegal efforts to build nuclear weapons in recent months.

Many South Koreans say they worry that the United States is ignoring Seoul's opinions about how to handle the North. Businessman Ahn Jun-ryeol says the United States should not act alone in the North Korea matter. He says Washington should first focus on building inter-Korean ties and then peacefully solve the nuclear issue.

North Korea has threatened to attack the South, if the United Nations were to impose sanctions on it or if the United States tried a military option to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs.

That has led a number of South Koreans to strongly support a close alliance with the United States. A retired doctor says South Korea's new president should not tolerate anti-Americanism. He says South Korea can not survive by neglecting its relationship with the United States.

Seoul is the final stop on Mr. Powell's tour of Asia. He already has visited Tokyo and Beijing, drumming up support for the U.S. effort to disarm Iraq by force if necessary, and to build a consensus on how to deal with the North Korean problem.