Sunday, March 20, 2005

Visiting Korea Base, Rice Sends Forceful Reminder to the North

By JOEL BRINKLEY, The New York Times, March 20, 2005

COMMAND POST TANGO, South Korea, Sunday, March 20 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped off her airplane in Seoul on Saturday evening, boarded an Army Black Hawk helicopter and immediately flew to this underground command bunker from which military commanders would direct any war against North Korea.

"I wanted to come here to thank you for what you do on the front lines of freedom," she told more than 100 service members in the war room, carved deep inside a mountain south of Seoul. "I know you face a close-in threat every day."

The visit, a pointed reminder of American military capacity on the peninsula, came just hours after a speech in Tokyo in which Ms. Rice repeated that the United States had no intention of attacking North Korea. But Ms. Rice's aides are also making it plain that the administration has run out of patience with North Korea's continued refusal to rejoin nuclear disarmament talks.

A senior official traveling with Ms. Rice said she was trying to send a clear message that it was time to bring talks over the North's nuclear weapons program "to a satisfactory conclusion."

Ms. Rice's action was a departure from diplomatic protocol on several levels. It is highly unusual for a secretary of state's first destination in a country to be a military site instead of a diplomatic event, especially an American installation instead of a South Korean one.

Past presidents and secretaries of state and defense have traveled to frontline defenses against North Korea, but not to any underground bunker. And they have usually been careful not to come across as bellicose, accompanying their moves with conciliatory language, in part not to alarm South Koreans. ------------------

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