Defiant Koreas

As much as his focus is on Iraq, President Bush can't ignore the troubles building up for the US in Korea - both North and South.

South Koreans are seething with anti-US resentment just before a presidential election Dec. 19. And North Korea was caught this week sending Scud missiles to Yemen.

Solving both problems will require forthright action. The most immediate need is for Mr. Bush to apologize more fully and personally for the June 13 killing of two South Korean girls by two US soldiers. The soldiers were acquitted by a US military court, which so enraged the South that presidential candidates are competing to see who can be the toughest on the US.

That forced the US to promise yesterday it will reevaluate the agreement on legal treatment of its 37,000 soldiers defending the South. Many more South Koreans now wonder if they need US defense at all.

The North still poses a threat, however, and to more than just the South. Unlike Iraq, it probably already has a crude nuclear bomb, and can both shoot and export missiles. And unlike Iraq, Bush prefers diplomacy over confrontation with the North.

The main US lever over the North is its only ally, Beijing. While Bush told China recently to restrain North Korea, he obviously hasn't applied enough pressure to China. Perhaps it's time for China to let North Korean refugees freely cross into China, forcing the North's weakened regime to collapse. Then the South won't need US soldiers anymore.

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