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Expert: Korea-U.S. Relations Gloomy

Posted August. 08, 2006 03:35,   


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace can be considered as representing the liberal tendency think-tank in the U.S. In an interview with Dong-A Ilbo, the former president of the institute and current senior fellow of the Century Foundation Morton I. Abramowitz presented a gloomy analysis on the current Korea-U.S. relations, “It is a situation in which it is difficult to find an effective solution to solve issues in the Korean peninsula, due to differences of Korea and America in their relative policies toward North Korea.”

How do you assess the current Korea-U.S. relations?

There are both positive and negative aspects. The basics of the Korea-U.S. alliance are to prevent North Korea’s aggression and preserve peace on the Korean peninsula. They are dealing well and cooperating on such basic issues. The problem is that the approach of both countries to deal with North Korea’s nuclear issues, a core task, is fundamentally different. Although both countries are using diplomatic rhetoric to cover them up, the differences are not narrowing. I think it will be difficult to solve the North Korea nuclear issue until such differences are sorted out. Both countries share the same goal of opposing North Korea’s nuclear armament but have different strategies.

Is there any way to solve such differences?

First of all, I think the U.S. should make it clear that it is truly ready to solve North Korea’s nuclear issue through negotiations. Afterwards, I hope that the U.S. can ask South Korea and China to support its serious negotiation plans and sort out the differences in opinion with South Korea. The George W. Bush administration has continuously mentioned the true nature of the North Korean regime, but that should be different from policy. Problems are solved through negotiations, not by defining and criticizing about the nature of a regime.

In South Korea, the minister of unification and the president have openly expressed about different opinions with the U.S.

Most people would ask why would they make public remarks on such issues, which will surely cover the front pages of newspapers. I think their actions reflect their degree of frustration. These are remarks to show the frustration on the rift between South Korea and the U.S. Generally, such things should not be exposed openly but rather dealt with unofficially. I want to say that according to diplomatic rules, their actions are not particularly impressive. After all, in order to effectively deal with countries such as North Korea, and in particular nuclear issues, mutual cooperation between China, South Korea, and the U.S. is vital, but why haven’t they achieved that yet? This is critical and requisite diplomacy that should be definitely achieved before dealing with North Korea. It is not enough to say that they do not want North Korea’s nuclear armament.

Do you think there is the possibility of USFK withdrawing if operational control is transferred to Korean forces?

I don’t see any sudden changes or serious reduction in the upcoming years. But obviously, the trend is reduction. However, how fast, how many, depends on various factors.

Is the presence of U.S. ground forces vital to U.S. interests?

The presence of American troops is important for the fundamental stability of the Korean Peninsula. However, if the North Korean threat disappears, the logic requiring USFK presence will lose strength. If South Korea does not want them, American forces will not be stationed. Is there any reason to stay if we are not wanted?

What situation do you forecast if South Korea joins the U.S. and Japan in sanctioning North Korea?

It can be said that if so, it will have therapeutic effects. It might be helpful to change North Korea’s regime. If the South Korean government wants to be firmer on North Korea, I don’t think that such pressure will be ineffective. Sanctions by the U.S. alone are not very effective, but if China and South Korea join to increase pressure, it will be a significant impact. However, under current circumstances I think it will be difficult for that to become true. I don’t mean to say that a pressuring policy is not a better policy, but that realistically, there is no way to achieve it.

In conclusion, do you mean that pressuring policy will be ineffective due to South Korea and China?

Yes. The U.S. is isolating it while South Korea is giving money. It will be very difficult to pursue effective policies as long as the key officials have different opinions. If China and South Korea share the same mind and perspective with the U.S., the story will be different, but they don’t. Despite this, everybody is just covering this up. It is always said that everything is going right, but isn’t that not true?

Biography of Morton I. Abramowitz

1972-1973 : Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense

1974-1978 : Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Inter-American, East Asian and Pacific Affairs

1978-1981 : Ambassador to Thailand

1985-1989 : Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research

1989-1991 : Ambassador to Turkey

1991-1997 : President of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Presently senior fellow of the Century Foundation

sechepa@donga.com srkim@donga.com