Reagan visit to Seoul will help cool South Korean vengeance
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Well-informed sources say there are voices demanding action to satisfy national pride, using the argument that ''if Israel could do it, why not us?'' (Apparently a reference to Israel's invasion of Lebanon to end the threat from PLO guerrillas).Skip to next paragraph
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But there are also more moderate voices who argue along the lines that ''our entire country was devastated by war 30 years or so ago, but we have recovered and built an economically strong nation that is starting to gain important recognition in the world. Why risk all that now by starting another war? It's far better to go on swallowing our pride and winning international sympathy by our tolerance of every northern atrocity.''
Speaking of the government's dilemma, Assistant Information Minister Choi Tae Soon commented: ''We are trying very hard to appease public indignation and frustration. We cannot simply act according to sentiment, but unless we ourselves are able to do something concrete, the frustration could turn against the government. . . . The people might then do wild things domestically.''
He said the government's main hope was that the evidence of northern involvement would be so strong that, internationally, bodies and individual countries would institute various sancitions to condemn Pyongyang.
But as he and Western diplomats noted, there is an equal frustration here. As one source noted: ''North Korea is already isolated diplomatically and has little trade with the non-communist bloc. There is not much leverage in the way of sanctions that can possibly be applied against it.''
Some obervers say that if the bombing happened two years ago, things might have been different. They say that this year Chun has shown greater confidence in leading the country and is considered less likely to react to his narrow escape as did his predecessor, the late Park Chung Hee.
After a North Korean-trained assassin's bullet missed him and instead killed his wife in 1974, Park reacted by developing a ''fortess mentality,'' becoming more authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.
All the evidence so far, including the choice of liberals in his new cabinet, suggests Chun for the moment at least does not feel the need to tighten up domestically to better face the continued northern threat.
The main US concern in the past few days has been to encourage southern restraint by asserting in strongest terms Washington's commitment to guarantee South Korean security.
US officials said this was one reason why Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was sent to Seoul for the national funeral for the bombing victims. The 40,000 American troops here have been on heightened alert along with their 600,000 South Korean counterparts, while the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has remained off the Korean coast as a symbolic gesture.
Gen. Robert Sennewald, commander in chief of the South Korean-US combined forces, called off a scheduled visit to Washington this week, explaining: ''During this important period following the tragic bomb blast . . . my place is here where my fundamental responsibilities reside . . . doing everything (to show) the US stands resolutely with the Republic of Korea in pursuit of peace and security.''
This is the message that President Reagan is expected to carry when he comes here, as there is every sign the Koreans are looking to him to bolster their frustated feelings of inadequacy.
cl11.5 Tensions are already high along the demilitarized zone marked by the 38th parallel, however, and the Reagan visit is likely to intensify rather than ease these. In recent days, North Korea has been broadcasting repeated tirades against the visit, including such threats as ''he (Reagan) will never leave (Seoul) alive'' and that the US Embassy will be turned into a ''pile of rubble.''
American and South Korean security officials don't discount the seriousness of the threats, but are confident they can cope. A foreign ministry spokesman said that under the circumstances, ''The visit by President Reagan has become even more important than ever before for the stability of (South) Korea.''