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Chemistry between SK-US foreign and defense chiefs

Posted December. 20, 2012 22:09,   


U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, 70, as the next secretary of state for his second term starting Jan. 21. Kerry unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004 for the Democratic Party. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, 66, is expected to be nominated as defense secretary. South Korea and the U.S., who are blood allies, have held foreign and defense ministerial "2 + 2" talks since July 2010 to coordinate key diplomatic and security issues. To guess Washington`s policy toward the Korean Peninsula, Seoul has to keep an eye on who will head the Pentagon and the State Department.

Kerry is in strong favor of dialogue with North Korea. As a senator who dealt exclusively with diplomacy for 30 years, he said giving carrots to the North in a dialogue between the U.S. and the Stalinist state instead of six-party talks would be efficient to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons. He is more of a “fighter” who fears no trial and error, so he might hold direct negotiations with the North. He volunteered as a U.S envoy to North Korea to release two American journalists detained there in March 2009. His visit never happened because Pyongyang chose former President Bill Clinton, but Kerry`s willingness to negotiate was known to the North Korean leadership.

Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, is a Republican. If Obama nominates him as defense secretary, this would be another example of a nomination for harmony. Robert Gates, whom Obama nominated to remain as Pentagon chief in his first term, is a Republican. Hagel said dialogue and diplomacy are not carrots and is against attempts to isolate the dangerous and unpredictable North Korea. Though the U.S. distrusts the North especially since it broke an agreement and launched a long-range missile, the Kerry-Hagel combination would probably resume dialogue with Pyongyang.

In the wake of South Korea`s election of Park Geun-hye as president Wednesday, talk has circulated over candidates for the next foreign minister and defense minister. The roles of the two positions are all the more important because North Korea is unstable amid a struggle over hegemony between the U.S. and China. Seoul`s ties with Washington have been restored to the state of "couldn’t be better," but tough challenges lurk such as a bilateral nuclear energy accord, defense cost sharing and control of forces in wartime. Good results can be expected when the new members of the 2 + 2 talks have good chemistry with each other. In the end, diplomacy and security are handled by people.

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