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Prospects for SOFA negotiations

Posted August. 01, 2000 19:46,   


All-out war versus local war--- Government authorities have come up with the following outlook on the positions of Korea and the United States ahead of the bilateral negotiations on the revision of SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) to be held for two days from Aug. 2.

Seoul is not in a position to give and take, thinking that the SOFA revision is merely a technical problem. Therefore the government views the revision of the pact as a kind of all-out war for the development of a fair and progressive relationship between the two countries. In contrast, the U. S. side is of the view that the SOFA amendment is a sort of technical matter requiring revisions and supplementation of some controversial clauses of the pact.

As such, the government is bracing for battle. For instance, President Kim Dae-Jung warned in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that the U.S.-Korea SOFA is discriminatory compared with those forged with Japan and Germany and if it is not rectified, Korea could be headed for anti-Americanism.

Foreign Affairs-Trade Minister Lee Joung-Binn asserted in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Bangkok on July 28 that the SOFA problem should be resolved through political determination without clinging tot echnical matters.

In this regard, the Seoul government organized a negotiation team comprising all related agencies regarding foreign affairs, national defense, justice, labor, environment and finance-economy. The Korean negotiators are poised to raise matters of not only the timing of the hand-over of American criminal suspects to the Korean authorities and Korean criminal jurisdiction but also all other related problems concerning environment, labor, quarantine and taxation. In connection, Seoul plans to employ interpreters? a rarity in past Seoul-Washington talks -- as the manifestation of Seoul`s firm resolution to grapple with the question. Foreign ministry officials said that the employment of interpreters is needed for the Korean negotiations so that the various agencies can correctly grasp their U. S. counterparts` remarks. If the negotiations are lengthen because of the interpretation, the Seoul side would continue to hold talks until late at night, they added.

On the other hand, however, Washington is likely to proceed with the negotiations from the technical perspective, as it did with other countries. This is indicated by the fact that its delegation is composed of only officials of the State Department. According to related government officials, the U.S. side seems to deal with the SOFA question from the viewpoint of merely governing the status of the American troops here, who are fulfilling their duty,

risking danger for Korea`s defense and security. The United States decline to approach the SOFA issue with consideration of the peculiar Korea-U.S. relationship, they said.