September 14, 2006
U.S. to Roll Out Tepid Welcome for President of
South Korea By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 — As President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea prepares to visit President Bush on Thursday morning, the two men have rarely been further apart on the central issue that long ago turned their relationship so frosty.
Mr. Bush is determined to squeeze North Korea with every financial sanction possible until it gives up its nuclear capacity and other illicit activities, or, some believe, until it collapses. Mr. Roh insists the only course is to coax the country out of its isolation.
In the weeks leading to the visit here, Mr. Bush’s aides have been using a new United Nations Security Council resolution, passed after
North Korea’s missile tests in July, to prepare a list of banks it can press to cut ties with North Korea.
Mr. Roh has been playing down the missile launching as a meaningless, attention-grabbing temper tantrum by the North Koreans, and he has resumed South Korean aid and investment to the country, in hopes of preventing what his country fears would turn into collapse or confrontation.In past meetings, Mr. Bush has done his best to paper over the differences. But his aides acknowledge that the gap has grown so much in recent months — “as wide as the Sea of Japan” one senior official said Wednesday — that it will be almost impossible to hide.
Mr. Roh will receive treatment that contrasts sharply with the warm embrace extended in June to Japan’s prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Koizumi got long meetings, a glittering dinner and a trip to Graceland; Mr. Roh, leader of the other major United States ally in Asia, is getting an hour in the Oval Office and a quick lunch.
It is a symbol of the enormous strains in the alliance, strains so great that Mitchell B. Reiss, the director of policy planning at the State Department during part of Mr. Bush’s first term, wrote in an op-ed column in The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that the two leaders “should agree to disagree on North Korea and move onward.’’
Asked how they could avoid the security issue that has been the cement of their alliance since 1950, Mr. Reiss, now a vice provost at the College of
William and Mary, said in an interview, “They don’t have a choice, because you can’t let it erode the foundations of the alliance.”
Mr. Bush has a polite but distant relationship with Mr. Roh, whom current and former White House aides say Mr. Bush believes is wedded to a doomed policy of appeasement toward a country that runs prison camps and regularly threatens its neighbors by expanding both its nuclear capacity and the range of its missiles.
The missile defense system that the administration has deployed in rudimentary form in Alaska and aboard ships is geared toward deterring a North Korean attack, though White House officials say their bigger fear is that the country, perpetually broke, might sell a weapon to a terrorist group. Mr. Roh, however, appears to view Mr. Bush’s approach as a dangerous failure, more likely to prompt North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, to lash out than disarm. Ahead of this trip, South Korean officials said in interviews that they believed Mr. Bush’s policies prompted Mr. Kim to produce the fuel for six or eight new nuclear weapons; American officials say
North Korea would have done so anyway.
Speaking on Wednesday at the United States Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Roh said he was “quite aware” of concerns about the state of American-South Korean relations.
Mr. Roh authorized 3,000 troops for
Iraq. But he was widely criticized for the decision at home, where polls show that the country is almost as distrustful of Washington as it is worried about the North Koreans. What further complicates Thursday’s meetings, however, is growing speculation that North Korea may be preparing for another test: this time, an underground nuclear test, which it has never before conducted. “For the North Koreans, it would be the next logical step in managed escalation,” said Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state. “The irony of the situation is that the farther away you are from the peril, the more concerned you are about it.”