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S. Korea Backing US Against Iraq


South Korea, a key U.S. ally, says it may send non-combat troops to support the impending military campaign in Iraq. South Korea is underscoring the importance of its military alliance with the United States amid growing concerns over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Despite South Korea's focus on a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Seoul says it backs the United States' position on Iraq.

Ra Jong-yil, the security advisor for President Roh Moo-hyun, said Wednesday South Korea may send non-combat troops to support a U.S. led attack on Iraq. Mr. Ra said Washington and Seoul were still talking over how South Korea could aid the U.S. led effort to disarm Iraq forcibly.

South Korea also is increasing security measures at U.S. facilities, such as the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, to discourage terrorism or violent demonstrations if a war starts in Iraq.

South Korea's foreign minister, Yoon Young-kwan, said Wednesday that maintaining the military alliance with Washington is a key priority for the Roh administration.

The United States stations 37,000 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against the communist North Korea. Regional tensions have been rising since October, when U.S. officials said the North admitted to running an illegal nuclear weapons program.

Since then, North Korea has withdrawn from the global treaty on nuclear arms, shadowed an unarmed U.S. spy plane and tested short-range missiles. Fears are escalating that the North could test a long-range missile or another weapon in the opening days of a war with Iraq.

If North Korea continues to behave in a threatening manner, Japan says it may abandon a pledge to improve ties with the Stalinist country. The agreement was signed at a summit in Pyongyang last year.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says the North Koreans have yet to cross the line, but it will be a problem if they move ahead.

China's new president, Hu Jintao, also has raised the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons. Chinese state media reports say that in a telephone conversation with President Bush, he pushed for direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis.

The North has called for one-on-one talks. The United States wants the discussions to involve other countries, including South Korea, Japan and China, since it says the North's nuclear ambitions present a global threat.

U-S Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated the Bush administration's view on Tuesday, telling reporters that he is convinced multilateral talks are the right course to take. He also warned North Korea against any militarily provocative acts as fighting begins in Iraq.