The top US diplomat in South Korea dismissed as "absurd" concerns that an initiative to halt and inspect ships leaving North Korean ports could provoke armed clashes between the rival Koreas, according to an interview published Tuesday.
South Korea has been hesitant to fully participate in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, over concerns that it could provoke violent confrontations with North Korea and spoil efforts to persuade the communist state to give up its nuclear ambitions through diplomacy.
South Korea maintains observer status in PSI, and last week Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told Parliament that Seoul would not fully participate in the program because of the "high possibility" of armed conflict with the North. Navies of the rival Koreas had deadly naval battles in 1999 and 2002.
In an interview with the national Chosun Ilbo newspaper published Tuesday, US Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow dismissed these concerns as "absurd."
"We are pleased that in the past year South Korea has increased its formal involvement" with the PSI, Vershbow said. But "we are disappointed that so many political figures have a fundamental misunderstanding of what PSI is."