As the US positions no less than 24 giant B-52 bombers within striking distance of North Korea, and plans 'war games' with nearly a quarter million troops near the DMZ, the new President of South Korea is issuing his own warnings...but to the U.S.!
Don't go too far' South Korea leader tells Bush
By Robert Thomson and Richard Lloyd Parry
In his first interview as President, Roh Moo Hyun says that Blair has a role in the Korean conflict
TONY BLAIR could play a vital role in the stand-off between North Korea and the United States, the new President of South Korea told The Times yesterday.
Tensions rose on the Korean Peninsula after it was revealed that North Korean fighter jets threatened to attack a US naval spyplane. But President Roh said that the high-altitude encounter was predictable, because the United States had increased its aerial surveillance of North Korea’s reopened nuclear facilities.
“It was a very predictable chain of events,” he said in his presidential palace, the Blue House. “A very strong threat against a counterpart can be a very effective means of negotiation,” he said, of the increased US surveillance. “I am urging the US not to go too far.”
The United States is preparing to lodge an official protest with North Korea over the harassment.
In an outspoken interview, which highlights the gaping differences between Seoul and Washington, the South Korean President insisted that the dispute over North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons programme will be resolved only if America and North Korea engage in direct talks — something that President Bush has ruled out. He also said that Tony Blair would make a suitable intermediary to begin the process of negotiating an end to the present deadlock.
“Ultimately, this problem has to be resolved by President Bush and Chairman Kim Jong Il, and they have to be moved to solve the problem,” he said. “In this regard I believe Prime Minister Blair’s role is very important.”
Mr Roh made clear that building a personal relationship with Kim Jong Il would be a priority. He said that he supported the establishment of a hotline with the North Korean leader to avoid the misunderstandings that have dogged relations between the two countries for half a century.
President Roh’s Government agrees with the Bush Administration that North Korea must abandon its suspected nuclear weapons programmes, but the two leaders differ on the best means of reaching such a goal.
The Americans insist that it can be achieved only in a multilateral forum, and in the past few weeks several proposals have been floated and rejected by North Korea. But, since his election last December and his formal inauguration eight days ago, President Roh has called for a policy of openness and engagement. His comments to The Times show that the gap between the two is as wide as ever.
“When I meet President Bush I will convince him by saying that although North Korea does not meet the values of the US and may not be likeable from their stand-point, there is a possibility to improve the relationship,” said Mr Roh. He is expected to visit Washington in the next three months. “I’d like to highlight the benefits of a dialogue with North Korea. When we look at history, the greater a leader is, the more effort he makes to create dialogue.”
President Roh was at pains to point out that it was up to Kim Jong Il to abandon his nuclear programme. But US officials are exasperated by his eagerness to engage a Government that devotes resources to its million-strong army, but where as many as three million people have died of starvation.
His failure to condemn unequivocally North Korea’s interception of the spyplane will only add to the edginess between Seoul and Washington. A senior Western official said: “There are a lot of people in the US who find South Korean nonchalance off-putting. To tolerate that kind of human rights violation without wanting to change it — to tolerate all the heavy artillery pointing at Seoul.”
But all sides agree on the gravity of the spyplane incident, which occurred on Sunday but was announced by the United States on late on Monday. Four North Korean fighter jets — two MiG29s and two MiG23s — surrounded and followed the US Boeing RC135S, a converted Boeing 707 passenger jet known as the Cobra Ball, which was forced to return to its base in Japan.
The RC135S is based at Kadena Air Force Base, in Okinawa in Japan. Such aircraft routinely fly missions close to the North Korean coast monitoring communications, radar emissions and the deployment of forces.
The MiGs “locked on” their attack radar and flew within 50ft of the unarmed aircraft, in a high-risk manoeuvre similar to the one in 2001 when a Chinese fighter downed a US Navy Orion spyplane over Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The incident took place 150 miles from North Korea in international air space over the Sea of Japan.
US officials said that they would make a formal protest.
# Washington: The US is sending 24 bombers to the island of Guam in the western Pacific to deter any aggression by North Korea. Defence officials said the move was a prudent measure to keep peace on the peninsula, but was not prompted by the weekend interception of a US spyplane by four North Korean fighters.