Soviets, South Koreans to bolster trade, sign cooperation treaty

April 21, 1991|By New York Times News Service

CHEJU, South Korea -- In a surprisingly rapid acceleration of their new relationship, President Roh Tae Woo and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev agreed yesterday to negotiate a mutual cooperation treaty and to multiply trade tenfold over the next five years in an effort to assist the faltering Soviet economy.

The two leaders took another big stride in redefining the post-Cold War order in North Asia by calling on North Korea, until just 10 months ago a key Soviet ally in the region, to open its nuclear installations to international inspection. Intelligence sources have said that North Korea may be able to construct nuclear weapons within five years, adding urgency to demands that it submit to the inspections called for under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has signed.

Mr. Gorbachev also endorsed South Korea's campaign to gain membership in the United Nations this fall, a move adamantly opposed by North Korea.

Although Mr. Gorbachev made only an overnight stop on this island resort off the southern tip of Korea, 280 miles from Seoul, the mere fact of the meeting underscored how far the Soviet Union has come in less than a year in reversing its relationship to the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Gorbachev's visit was seen in part as a gesture of gratitude for Seoul's offer in January to provide $3 billion in economic aid to shore up the battered Soviet economy.

The meeting stood in sharp contrast to the distinctly cooler reception Mr. Gorbachev was given during his four-day visit to Japan on the first leg of his Asian journey.

That trip foundered over a territorial dispute left from World War II, and the Japanese refused to provide any economic support to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Gorbachev emphasized the contrast by stating pointedly over dinner after his arrival late Friday, "It was cold with rain in Japan, but here in Cheju it is so warm that I feel quite at home." He also noted that, just a year ago, the idea of a Soviet leader making such a comment on South Korean soil was "hardly possible to imagine."

[There was also a chill in the air in Moscow, where hard-liners said yesterday that Mr. Gorbachev should be removed from office, the Associated Press reported. They proposed declaring a state of emergency to restore strong central control.

["We must declare a six-month state of emergency over all the territory of the Soviet Union, without which catastrophe will be inevitable," said Yuri Blokhin, leader of the hard-line Soyuz group.

["If the government doesn't take these steps, Soyuz is ready to take all responsibility" for implementing them, he told a conference of the group's members and supporters.]

Mr. Gorbachev proposed the mutual cooperation treaty with Korea during a meeting yesterday morning with Mr. Roh. The contents of the treaty were left vague, and a senior South Korean presidential adviser said "we have no idea" what it will contain. But Mr. Roh was quick to agree to explore the proposal.

The Soviets indicated that they particularly want to develop their economic relationship with South Korea. Direct trade between South Korea and the Soviet Union was a mere $900 million last year, but the two sides agreed that they would like that to expand to $10 billion by the mid-1990s.

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