South Korea’s president insisted Tuesday that he is not anti-American, saying good relations with the United States are essential to his country’s economy and security.
“Many easily think President Roh Moo-hyun is a pro-North Korean leftist force and has anti-American sentiment, but this is not the case,” Roh told local business leaders, according to a transcript released by his office.
Roh came to power in early 2003 on pledges not to kowtow to the United States. In January, he lashed out at conservatives in Washington seeking to force the collapse of North Korea’s communist regime.
Roh admitted Tuesday there was friction with the United States on some issues, notably when the North Korea nuclear crisis began in late 2002. He cited his disagreement with Washington over whether military force was an option.
“I thought our government should put forward a clear message to investors around the world and to our people that it won’t get involved in exercising military force in order to help our economy stabilize,” he said.
Other points of friction between Seoul and Washington have been over funding for the U.S. military presence in South Korea, where 29,500 American troops are deployed as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Still, South Korea has sent the third-largest contingent of foreign troops to Iraq, some 3,200 soldiers, a move unpopular at home but intended to win Washington’s support.