SEOUL — The war in Iraq is casting a long shadow over the impending crisis on the Korean Peninsula and, in particular, on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and intentions. Last month in Seoul, antiwar protesters succeeded in delaying a vote in the National Assembly on dispatching 700 noncombat engineers and medical workers to support coalition efforts in Iraq. Last week, the measure was approved, but not without the political cost of alienating a large part of new South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun’s political base.
While the measure pales compared to Seoul’s material and financial support in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, it is opposed by one-third of the members of his Millennium Democratic Party, who have questioned the war’s legality and Seoul’s need to support it. In their view, the president’s decision to send troops — albeit in a noncombat role — makes a mockery of his campaign pledge to seek greater independence from the United States in the interests of North-South reconciliation.