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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Softer approach to N Korea crisis
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Washington

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun,  archive picture
President Roh has rejected military action against N Korea
North Korea called the US leadership "imperialist warmongers" and "imbeciles".

The US called the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "irresponsible".

In other words, it was just another week in the rhetorical war across the Pacific.

But it was in this unlikely atmosphere that President Bush recommitted to diplomacy as the only way of persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"For those who say that we ought to be using our military to solve the problem, I would say that while all options are on the table, we've got a way to go to solve this diplomatically," he said.

On Friday Mr Bush is meeting South Korean President Roh to discuss the ongoing crisis.

The president's enthusiasm for diplomacy may be because the consequences of a military strike against North Korea are too awful to contemplate.

The South Korean capital, Seoul, is within range of massed North Korean artillery and rocket batteries. A barrage directed into South Korea would cause tens of thousands of casualties in a matter of hours.

Balbina Hwang, from the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the US did not have many options.

"Moreover, whatever options that we had at the beginning of this crisis are being whittled away, not just by North Korea, but actually by our so-called partners in this process, China and Russia, and even more disturbing, actually by our ally, South Korea," she said.

Losing patience

South Korea has emphatically rejected any military action against North Korea. China has indicated it will not support a blockade of North Korea or any economic sanctions.

So all roads lead back to the six-party talks set up to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

But the signs are that few in Washington now really hold out much hope that the six-party talks will disarm North Korea.

Satellite image of North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Centre - archive picture
North Korea says it has already developed nuclear weapons

Last month, the US very publicly deployed F117 stealth fighters to South Korea. These are strike aircraft which specialise in evading radar and air defence.

And the US also pulled the plug on the one area of co-operation it had with North Korea, searching for the remains of US servicemen killed in the Korean War.

These are attempts to isolate and pressure North Korea, and signals that the US is losing patience, according to Charles Pritchard, former US ambassador to South Korea.

"I think what we're seeing altogether now is a level of frustration and a putting into place small things that, if you explain them on their own, they're justifiable, they're understandable, but collectively, begin to look like the administration is preparing itself for a point in time should there be a failure in six-party talks," he said.

The crucial significance of the meeting between Presidents Bush and Roh, says Balbina Hwang, lies in whether or not they can set a tone of unity and purpose in dealing with North Korea.

"I believe that the Roh-Bush summit will prove to be the watershed moment, and it is actually sort of the calm before the perfect storm that is brewing out there.

"There is a great deal of anticipation, trepidation and anxiety on both sides, both in Seoul and in Washington," she said.

This week, North Korea indicated to the US that it would return to the six-party talks. But it did not say when.

It is unclear what North Korea wants in return for disarming. It is unclear what the US is prepared to give, or what China and South Korea are willing to do to help the process forward.

And meanwhile, North Korea remains at the centre of a chronic and intractable crisis.




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