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Rice`s memories of talks on N. Korea

Posted November. 03, 2011 06:14,   


The late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held eight summits with the U.S. president despite his occasional showings of anti-U.S. inclination. The most awkward scene was the media conference held immediately after his summit with then U.S. President George W. Bush in Sydney, Australia, in September 2007. With a month left before a planned inter-Korean summit, Seoul tried to induce Washington to declare the end of the Korean War, which had stopped in a truce concluded in 1953. In the news conference, Roh wanted Bush to declare that such a declaration was in sight.

Bush made no clear statement on the declaration in a comment before the conference, so Roh asked him to mention it. The U.S. president, however, said it was a matter that would be considered after the North abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Roh then asked Bush to make a "clearer" statement, to which the latter responded by saying he could not be any clearer than that. Though the two leaders were smiling, they had experienced a diplomatic argument for the whole world to see. For the U.S., which considered the declaration a peace agreement, it was hard to understand South Korea`s strategy of using the declaration as political rhetoric to start negotiations on a peace regime.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoir that the incident showed Roh`s "erratic" aspect. She recalled that Roh seemed to be unaware of how weird the situation was. The South Korean leader, who invited Bush to Gyeongju in November 2005, argued with the U.S. president for more than an hour, asking the Bush administration to lift its freeze on 25 million U.S. dollars in North Korea’s illegal accounts. Former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow called this the worst summit between the leaders of the two countries.

Under the Roh administration, North Korea was the main cause for the rift between South Korea and the U.S. and even divided the Bush administration`s foreign affairs team. Rice, who negotiated with Pyongyang despite opposition from anti-North Korea hardliners, finally opted to directly deal with Bush. Despite the faster decision-making process, the North`s nuclear program remains unresolved. Even after 20 years of dialogue among Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington, the issue has failed to make any progress and is still ongoing.

Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (triplets@donga.com)