S. Korea set to deliver peace proposal to U.S.

Seoul tries to ease tension over North's nuclear effort

January 05, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's National Security Council worked yesterday on a compromise proposal to ease the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, spurred by warnings from North Korea's state-run media that "the present situation is very serious and unpredictable."

The proposal, which will be submitted to U.S. and Japanese officials in Washington tomorrow, is part of a broader effort by South Korea to mediate between its ally, the United States, and its former nemesis, North Korea.

In a measure of South Korea's move from being its neighbor's adversary to advocate, the main headline of The Korea Times, an English-language newspaper, said yesterday, "Seoul will ask U.S. to guarantee survival of N. Korea."

Seoul is going to propose that President Bush write a letter promising not to attack North Korea, in return for which North Korea would put its plutonium-based nuclear program back under international controls. A formal nonaggression treaty would face opposition in the U.S. Senate, which is critical of North Korean human rights violations.

"We are preparing for a compromise that will call for both U.S. President George W. Bush and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to make concessions," said Lim Chae Jung, head of the transition committee for President-elect Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea. Roh has said he would like the crisis resolved by his inauguration Feb. 25.

South Korea's general attitude is that an expensive peace agreement on the peninsula is far cheaper than war and that aiding impoverished North Korea is a small price to pay to preserve steadily growing prosperity in South Korea.

The United States is trying to enlist not only South Korea, Japan and Europe but also North Korea's traditional backers - Russia and China - in an effort to get North Korea to renounce its nuclear program. But neither the Chinese nor the Russians gave any indication yesterday that they would go along.

"The rigid U.S. policy towards the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will only exacerbate tensions between the two sides," said China Daily, a state-owned English-language newspaper. In Russia, where a South Korean envoy arrived yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said the United States and North Korea should search for a solution in a "calm and constructive way."

North Korea's behavior will also be under scrutiny at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body that kept watch on North Korea's nuclear program with cameras, seals and inspectors until the government in Pyongyang ordered the controls turned off last month. The agency's inspectors recently were expelled.

The agency's directors will meet tomorrow in Vienna, Austria, to weigh a resolution that could lead to the imposition of sanctions against North Korea by the U.N. Security Council.

Yesterday, North Korea again defended its behavior as a way to counter U.S. threats.

"If the U.S. imperialists misjudge the might and will of the DPRK and make a pre-emptive attack, the DPRK will deal a mortal blow to the war provokers with its powerful counterstrike," the newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an English translation provided by the Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. imperialist warhawks should contemplate."

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