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President Roh`s turnaround in His Stance US and North Korea

President Roh`s turnaround in His Stance US and North Korea

Posted May. 19, 2003 21:53,   


President Roh Moo-hyun`s statement regarding the government`s North Korean policy and South Korea`s bilateral ties with the US during his recent US visit has been interpreted as a dramatic turn from his past comments. As a result, the reason for the President`s changed position is now drawing much public attention because president Roh, who had emphasized an independent stance on the US at the early days of his inauguration, seemed to fawn upon the key ally of South Korea by placing much importance on the bilateral alliance and urging the North to change its future course.

With regard to his sharp changes, there are mixed reactions from his opponents and supporters and even signs of brewing a controversy. Some criticized the President for taking a pro-American stance, while others think now the President started to realize the importance of the South Korea-US alliance and what is a right approach to dealing with North Korea.

President Roh said during a lecture at Chonnam National University, “I think I have changed because a president is required at every moment to make a choice.”

Many experts analyzed that one of the most important factors in initiating the dramatic changes in the President`s behavior and rhetoric was that the US government`s tough stance on the North that was shown when officials from the two countries worked out wordings of a joint statement at the end of the South Korea and US summit talks. One week before the summit talks, assistant minister of Foreign Affaires Lee Soo-hyuk and Seo Joo-seok, a member of the National Security Committee, attended a meeting held in Washington to consult with US officials on wordings of the joint statement. The two Korean officials relayed the US tough position on the North to Chung Wa Dae and the government realized that a priority should be given to improvement of the ties with the US. It has been reported that in the process, foreign minister Yoon Young-kwan, high-ranking government officials including presidential secretary for foreign policy Ban Ki-moon, and presidential secretary for national defense strongly emphasized the president of the importance of the ROK and US alliance and building mutual trusts between the two nations.

Experts said that another important factor was a nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Government officials suggested that during the three-way talks involving North Korea, the US and China, Pyongyang declared it was already a nuclear power and threatened to push ahead with reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods. Against this backdrop, the government realized that it is difficult to only focus on the improvement of inter-Korean relations, while disregarding the North Korea`s nuclear threat. In particular, the President was reported to have decided to take a tougher stance on the North, when it maintained the inter-Korean denuclearlization declaration was invalid during the South Korea-US summit talks.

The President`s acknowledgement of Korea`s economic uncertainty may have played a key role in his change stance. An official at the Roh`s administration said, “The President came to realize the fact that North Korea`s nuclear threat and strained relations with the US may force the Korea`s sovereign credit rating to be downgraded, which will deal a fatal blow to the Korean economy.”

However, some experts said that the President`s principles and fundamental views on North Korea and the US have not been changed. He would not easily give up his long-held values of reconciliation and integration with North Korea. When the President decided to send non-combatant Korean troops to Iraq, he defended his decision as a choice made to secure national interests. In light of that, the President may defend his pro-American remarks during his visit to the US as an “unavoidable decision to protect national interests.” Therefore, many experts indicate Roh appears to have chosen a realistic solution to the North Korean issue to secure national interests, based on the acknowledgement of US power.

Young-Sik Kim spear@donga.com