SEOUL, South Korea - Exposing the latest crack in South Korea's alliance with the United States, the Parliament bowed yesterday to spreading protests and delayed for a second time a vote on sending 700 Army engineers and medical doctors to Iraq.
The delay was a setback for Seoul's month-old liberal government. Elected on a wave of protests against the U.S. military presence here, President Roh Moo Hyun is trying to bridge the gap between his electorate and his desire to retain 37,000 U.S. troops posted here.
The legislators' decision to delay a vote on sending 700 rear-guard troops to Iraq nearly coincided with the news that the United States is sending an additional 100,000 troops to the Persian Gulf. Unable to demonstrate South Korea's symbolic support, Seoul's new foreign minister, Yoon Young Kwan, began two days of talks in Washington yesterday with Bush administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In a poll last month, the withdrawal of American soldiers was favored by 68.4 percent of 2,154 South Korean adults interviewed by Fn Research and Consulting, an affiliate of a business newspaper here.
Roh does not want to be remembered as the leader who presided over the breakup of South Korea's 50-year-old alliance with the United States. He has tried to sell the sending of troops to Iraq as a way to win leverage with the United States over its policies for the Korean Peninsula.
"I made the decision for the national interest because we may get a bigger say in dealing with the United States by sending noncombat troops," Roh told party leaders late Tuesday.