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Roh Arrives in US

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun arrived in Washington on Thursday for a crucial meeting with US President Bush that will focus on nuclear aims of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and how to better coordinate their approach to the crisis.

With DPRK watching, the task for Roh and Bush will be to close ranks after discordant statements that Pyongyang has exploited to try to divide the allies and evade blame for ratcheting up the nuclear dispute, analysts say.

Differences go well beyond the nuclear crisis to the heart of a relationship that was forged during the 1950-53 Korean War, but has been strained as new generations, particularly in South Korea under reformist Roh, reassess the alliance.

"When President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea sees President Bush of the United States in Washington on June 10, relations between the two nations will be worse than at any time since Americans and South Koreans fought, bled and died together in the Korean War," wrote analyst Richard Halloran in South Korea's Joong Ang Daily newspaper this week.

Even Roh says there are differences. But he told US and South Korean military commanders Wednesday that Washington and Seoul agreed on most things, and that most South Koreans knew their prosperity as Asia's third-largest economy derived in large measure from US support over the years.

Roh arrived at an Air Force base outside Washington. He returns to Seoul after the meeting with Bush on Friday.

Given the limited time together -- about an hour of talks followed by lunch -- the focus for Roh and Bush will be on DPRK. Analysts and officials say the presidents must use their fourth meeting to send a clear message of solidarity.

The two allies are cautiously weighing signs that DPRK could end a year-long boycott of six-country diplomatic talks on its nuclear ambitions. They are also trying to figure out whether DPRK is about to test a nuclear weapon.

"We're hopeful that DPRK will come back to those talks at an early date without any preconditions," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with the president to Columbus, Ohio, Thursday.

"That's the message that we're all sending to DPRK -- all the other parties want to see DPRK come back to the talks so we can talk in a serious way about how to move forward," McClellan added.

Lost focus

In what looked like another carefully timed rhetorical twist, DPRK's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan told ABC News that Pyongyang had enough atomic bombs to defend itself against a US attack and was building more.

McClellan said such statements "will only further isolate DPRK from the rest of the international community."

"We have managed to lose the focus and that's why DPRK has been able to play this game and drag this out," said Balbina Hwang, a Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"South Koreans mistrust the United States and its motives, and the United States is beginning to mistrust South Korea and its motives," said Hwang.

In tackling this latest nuclear dispute that erupted in October 2002, Washington and Seoul have often sounded less than united despite their stated goal of disarming Pyongyang.

South Korea blanches at talk of economic sanctions or other coercive steps to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Echoing China, South Korea urges the United States to be more flexible with the North.

In the United States, comments by Roh and other officials have raised concern that Seoul is tilting away from the alliance toward neutrality, even though South Korea has contributed 3,500 troops to the US-led campaign in Iraq.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies June 10, 2005)

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