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On the wrong foot

June 19,2017
A special adviser on foreign affairs and national security to President Moon Jae-in, while outlining the president’s idea of how to achieve denuclearization in North Korea, has raised a stir just before the leaders of Seoul and Washington are scheduled to meet at the end of the month for their first summit.

Moon Chung-in, a scholar acting as the president’s special adviser on foreign and North Korean affairs, shared what he claimed was the president’s idea for resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments during a forum on the U.S.-Korea alliance at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

Moon said Seoul was willing to persuade Washington to scale down joint U.S.-Korea military exercises and the deployment of American strategic arms on the Korean Peninsula if Pyongyang suspends its nuclear and missile program. He added that stalling the full installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield for an environmental inquiry should not be seen as undermining the U.S.-Korea alliance. “Thaad is a weapons system,” he said. “An alliance shouldn’t break up over something like that.”

The comments are hardly timely considering that Pyongyang has made it crystal clear that its nuclear program is not a bargaining chip. The strategic weapons defending South Korea and the regular joint military drills are physical symbols of the U.S.-Korea alliance. They are too valuable to be offered as bargaining chips with an unreliable regime like the one in Pyongyang.

North Korea has a track record of secretly developing weapons even after it has promised denuclearization. It cannot be wise for Seoul to propose downsizing U.S. strategic arms and military exercises. What happens if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promises one thing and resumes tests? The United States is not likely to restore strategic weapons and joint exercises that cost huge amounts of money once they are scaled back.

Remarks that can jeopardize the alliance between the two countries help little. The U.S. Department of State said it understood the comments as the personal opinions of the special adviser. Moon Chung-in must speak with the kind of discretion befitting his role and not undermine national interests.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 30