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South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun salutes during a ceremony Wednesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun salutes during a ceremony Wednesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — During his first visit to a U.S. base, South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun told senior American military leaders Wednesday that a strong alliance between their countries is necessary, especially with growing tension over the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“We’ll never accept the North Koreans’ nuclear program development,” Roh told a group of U.S. and Korean Combined Forces Command senior leaders, including Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, U.S. Forces Korea commander.

Roh said a strong South Korea-U.S. alliance stands behind dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea.

“This should be resolved in a peaceful manner in close coordination with the United States, Japan, China, Russia and through the international community,” he said, referring to the North’s nuclear development.

Roh spoke through a translator in a briefing room at Yongsan Garrison’s headquarters building, just minutes after a classified discussion on the CFC’s mission.

Roh, who rode a wave of anti-Americanism while campaigning last fall, said the South Korea-U.S. partnership is “the driving force of the security of South Korea” and “the backbone of our development and prosperity.”

LaPorte said he sent Roh a congratulatory letter on his election and invited him to visit Yongsan.

Asked if Roh’s trip there was symbolic of anything following the anti-military sentiment that grew over the summer, and his tough anti-U.S. talk, LaPorte said no.

As for Roh’s message to the U.S. military during the afternoon visit, LaPorte said, “President-elect Roh made a firm and positive statement about the health and future of the alliance.”

Roh began his tour of the U.S. garrison by inspecting the U.N. Honor Guard, which paraded in front of the headquarters building. He arrived to a 21-gun salute and saluted while the nation’s anthems were played.

“Reconciliation between two Koreas would not be made possible if there’s not any firm and solid security” on the Korean peninsula, Roh said.

“I myself, and the Korean people, have great recognition and acknowledgment … that USFK is needed, and we will make our best efforts to develop further the ROK-U.S. alliance,” he said.

In a written statement, LaPorte said Roh’s visit “reaffirms our commitment to work together as partners and friends.”

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