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U.S. Korea Relations Falter Over Intercepted U.S. Spy Plane

U.S. Korea Relations Falter Over Intercepted U.S. Spy Plane

Posted March. 04, 2003 22:50,   


North Korea has been getting increasingly bold, taking a series of provocative acts and escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, which already faces a nuclear standoff. In the same line, the Roh administration`s agencies in charge of foreign affairs and national security are having a hard time dealing with the North Korean regime.

President Roh has not yet appointed the director of the National Intelligence Service yet. Externally, the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. has soured and the new administration does not know through which diplomatic channel it should talk with America. In addition, North Korea does not show any sign of backing down from its hard-line position.

It is confirmed that four North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane on Sunday on a routine intelligence mission in international air space about 150 miles (240 kilometers) off North Korea`s coast. One of the North Korean jets involved got very close to the U.S. plane and locked its radar weapons’ system onto it, the last stage before firing a missile.

Previously, another North Korean jet fighter, believed to be MIG 19, flew south near Yeonpyong Island in the Yellow Sea, entering South Korean air space below the Northern Limit Line. And, on the eve of President Roh`s inauguration, North Korea fired a missile into international waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. It also began preparing the reactivation of its 5MW reactor on the day Roh took office.

What is really worrisome is the possibility that the series of North Korea`s dangerous moves are likely to continue and pose more problems to the new South Korean administration, leaving less room for Roh in resolving North Korea`s nuclear standoff as he intends. Especially, if North takes any direct steps to operate its reprocessing facility, the Bush administration will consider the red line breached, and initiate in earnest tough measures against it. South Korean officials are worrying that if the worst materializes, the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea will likely be crippled in terms of resolving the North Korean matter.

In addition, the U.S. news media are pushing the Bush administration to take a hard-line approach to North Korea, casting more difficulties before the Roh administration. For example, The Washington Post reported on March 1 that it becomes more and more likely that the United States would strike North Korea. Some South Korean officials are trying to understand the recent maneuvering by the U.S. news media as part of the Bush administration`s plan to tap the country’s general opinion before taking any steps for action against the North.

If the differences between the two countries are not ironed out, it is highly likely that the U.S. will come up with strong measures against the North Korean regime to tame both the regime and the fledging Roh administration which has demanded equal relations.

"The Kim Jung Il regime might think it could threaten the Untied States into resuming dialog. If that is what Kim Jung Il really believes, he should know better," said one South Korean official yesterday.

But North Korea`s parade of provocation will probably continue, and that is what the Roh administration is worried about. If North Korean fighters should collide with a U.S. plane in stunt like on Sunday, the situation would get much worse.

Continuing to stress a peaceful resolution to the matter, President Roh and his cabinet will not be able to maintain a positive relationship with the United States, unless it brings about some change on the part of the North.

Young-Sik Kim spear@donga.com