SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea (search) would like to see positive steps toward ending the standoff over North Korea's (search) nuclear program before deciding on sending troops to Iraq, the president said Wednesday.
Last month, the United States asked its ally South Korea to dispatch thousands of combat troops to Iraq to help American forces secure stability in the Arab state.
"Prior to making any decision on the troop dispatch, it is extremely important to arrive at a positive outlook for and conviction in peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," President Roh Moo-hyun (search) said in a speech marking Armed Forces Day.
"More than anything, a stable atmosphere of dialogue should be promoted so that it will lead to a conviction that the North's nuclear issue can, indeed, be resolved peacefully."
But differences between the United States and North Korea appeared to harden Tuesday.
At the United Nations, a top North Korean official said Tuesday that Pyongyang would not return to talks on the nuclear crisis unless Washington takes "simultaneous action" to meet its demands.
It makes no sense for the communist country to "put down the guns first," North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told the U.N. General Assembly.
Washington, however, demands that North Korea must dismantle its nuclear programs first, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said in Tokyo he was disappointed over North Korea's stance not to resume talks aimed at resolving the standoff.
Kelly and officials from Japan and South Korea wrapped up two days of meetings in Tokyo, agreeing to work together to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table.
Roh, the South Korean president, said he expected a second round of the talks "will be held in due time and will produce good results."
South Korean ambassador to the United States, Han Seung-soo told visiting South Korean legislators in Washington on Tuesday that he expected the talks to take place no later than November, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. It did not elaborate.
Sending troops to Iraq has evoked mixed responses in South Korea. Some believe it would boost their country's military alliance with the United States, vital to its national security. Others say the U.S. military operations in Iraq were unjustified, and the South should not send soldiers.
Demonstrators staged violent protests when Seoul sent 675 non-combat troops to assist in the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq earlier this year.
The nuclear crisis began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a nuclear program in violation of international agreements.
The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North. North Korea in turn expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, withdrew from the global nuclear arms-control treaty and said it would reactivate its main nuclear complex, frozen since 1994.
Last month, the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia met in Beijing last month for talks on the North's nuclear weapons program. But the meeting ended without an agreement on how to defuse tensions or when to hold the next round.
Roh used his speech before some 25,000 soldiers at an airport outside Seoul to appeal to North Korea to work to resolve the nuclear dispute.
"I again urge the North to abandon its nuclear development and come onto the path toward peace and coexistence," he said.
On Wednesday also, North Korea accused the United States of conducting some 160 spy flights in September to monitor its military activities.
North Korea's official news agency KCNA said the espionage flights included 20 missions by a U-2 high altitude strategic reconnaissance plane.
The U.S. military does not comment on North Korean claims.