November 30, 2005

New US envoy to Seoul not encouraged by N.Korea tactics

By Jon Herskovitz

SEOUL (Reuters) - The new U.S. ambassador to South Korea
said on Wednesday he was not encouraged by the way North Korea
was approaching an agreement to dismantle its nuclear

In his first major address since taking the post, Alexander
Vershbow also said Washington was concerned by friction between
Seoul and Tokyo over the Japanese prime minister's visits to a
war shrine.

Vershbow took over from Christopher Hill, who became the
chief U.S. negotiator to six-party talks aimed at ending North
Korea's nuclear weapons programmes.

In September, the six parties reached a deal where North
Korea agreed to scrap its nuclear plans in exchange for
economic aid, security assurances and greater diplomatic

Pyongyang almost scuttled the agreement by saying a day
after it was struck the United States must provide it with a
civilian reactor up front before it even considers scrapping
its atomic weapons programmes.

Washington and others said this was not part of the deal.

"It remains to be seen whether North Korea is truly
prepared to eliminate its nuclear programmes, and to do so in a
prompt and verifiable manner," Vershbow said in a speech to the
American Chamber of Commerce in South Korea.

"The North Koreans' tactics were not especially
encouraging," Vershbow said in reference to the North's actions
after the deal was reached among the two Koreas, China, Japan,
Russia and the United States.

Vershbow said if North Korea was ready to move forward on
ending its nuclear ambitions, the United States was ready to
respond by looking at items such as striking a peace treaty to
replace the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Vershbow said Washington was concerned about strained ties
between Seoul and Tokyo caused by Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war
criminals are honoured along with Japan's 2.5 million war dead.

Japan's ties with South Korea and China, both victims of
Japan's past militarism, have deteriorated since Koizumi took
office in 2001 and began annual pilgrimages to Yasukuni.

"It certainly causes us great distress to see two allies
quarrelling on such painful issues," he said.

Vershbow said he would push for a bilateral free trade
agreement between the United States and South Korea.

He also called on the European Union to address the issue
of agricultural subsidies and help break an impasse in a global
free trade agreement. World Trade Organization members will
meet in December in Hong Kong to try work out a trade deal.

"The ball is now in the European Union's court to take
bolder steps on agricultural market liberalisation," he said.