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Early summit is the key

May 02,2017
Friction between Seoul and Washington over who should bear the cost of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system now deployed in Korea rings loud alarm bells in the alliance.

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks suggesting Korea cover the cost of the battery, Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster jumped on the bandwagon. Despite our National Security Office head Kim Kwan-jin’s denial on Sunday, McMaster made stunning remarks in an interview with Fox News. He said he told Kim that a previous agreement is valid only until renegotiation. In an interview with NBC News, Pence also said Trump wants U.S. allies to play a bigger role on security.

The turnaround in Washington clearly shows that the remarks Trump made on his 100th day into office are not simply a message targeting his supporters in the U.S. His signing of an executive order on the same day to review all free trade deals with foreign countries has also pushed the future of the Korea-U.S. FTA into uncertainty. With China continuing to retaliate against Korea for the Thaad deployment, Koreans have to tackle unprecedented security risks from Trump’s America First policy.

Now it is the time for us to muster wisdom to address the inconvenient reality. The conflict over Thaad arose amid Korea’s leadership vacuum after the ouster of President Park Geun-hye. We have lost the time to help Trump understand the urgent issues of the peninsula through summit diplomacy. In the meantime, our diplomatic rivals Japan and China could probably instill bias against us into Trump’s mind to have the upper hand in diplomacy.

Under such circumstances, we can expect nothing from our National Security Office chief. The discord over the cost of the Thaad battery has emerged as the top diplomatic priority for the new president after the May 9 election. What we need most is reactivating our presidential diplomacy with Trump immediately after the election. On taking office, the new president must have a face-to-face meeting with him to explain the cherished value of our decades-old alliance — and our people’s shock — and settle the matter in a desirable direction.

Our presidential candidates must study the way Trump negotiates and bargains with counterparts. They must delve into it so as not to lose our leverage. That’s the only way for a new president to clear up all the confusion over the Thaad battery and move toward peace and security on the peninsula.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 26