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Moon’s approach to North may jar the Trump gov’t

June 18,2017
이미지뷰
Moon Chung-in, President Moon Jae-in’s special adviser on foreign affairs and national security, delivers a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. Friday. [YONHAP]
With the U.S.-Korea leaders’ summit just around the corner, the two governments may find themselves at odds over North Korea policy, especially after President Moon Jae-in’s adviser suggested dialing down joint Korea-U.S. military exercises to hold talks with Pyongyang — if it suspends its nuclear and missile tests.

“If North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities, then we may consult with the United States to scale down ROK-U.S. joint exercises and training,” said Moon Chung-in, presidential special advisor for unification, foreign and national security affairs, in a forum on the U.S.-Korea alliance at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. Friday.

He said that President Moon had proposed the idea as an “incremental” solution to the North.

He also raised the possibility of the South holding talks with the North if it halts provocations against it, adding that the South Korean government does not have to follow the U.S. government’s policy of no talks until denuclearization.

“Is there any reason for us not to have a dialogue when North Korea refrains from provocations?” he said. “The point is to improve inter-Korean relations. It’s pretty clear that if the inter-Korean relations improve, it would have a positive effect on the missile and nuclear issues.”

In response, the U.S. government said adviser Moon’s views were his “personal views.”

“We understand these views are the personal views of Mr. Moon and may not reflect official ROK Government policy,” Alicia Edwards, a U.S. State Departments spokeswoman, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I refer you to the ROK Government,” using the acronym for Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name.

But President Moon has also suggested the possibly of holding talks with the North if it stopped provocations.

“Should North Korea stop its missile and nuclear provocations, [the South] is ready to begin talks with the North without conditions,” Moon said at an event commemorating the June 15th, 2000 North-South Joint Declaration on Thursday. “The North must give up its nuclear development and find ways to cooperate with the international community.”

The U.S. government has been insisting on efforts by the North to denuclearize before it will return to dialogue.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. government’s position toward the North remains unchanged.

“Our position has not changed. For the DPRK — for us to engage in talks with the DPRK, they would have to denuclearize,” Nauert said in a press briefing Thursday, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “And that is not something we’re seeing them take any steps to do so. We remain very concerned about their provocative actions that they continue to take. We continue to call on them to de-escalate those types of actions, but we are nowhere close to that.”

Reading between the lines of the two governments’ statements on North Korea, some experts voiced concerns about diverging strategies and a possible cooling of bilateral relations.

“The recent happenings concerning the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [Thaad] antimissile system have led to a worsening of the image of South Korea to Americans in general,” said an official of Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who asked not to be named. “And the fact that American Otto Warmbier came back in a coma from North Korea has angered many Americans.”

Since taking office, Moon challenged the previous administration’s assessment that the Thaad deployment was urgent enough to skip a proper environmental impact study and ordered a full survey, which may take up to two years.

The Blue House said it has no intention of reversing the decision to deploy Thaad, however.

“One official at the National Security Council told me that there is a general distrust toward the Korean government in the United States, that the new administration may be lying,” said a diplomatic insider in Washington D.C. under condition of anonymity, especially after Moon complained that Washington had deployed four missile launchers for the Thaad battery without informing his government. “The U.S. government has confirmed that the South Korean government was aware of the arrival of the four additional Thaad launchers all this time.”

Moon had ordered last month an investigation into how four extra Thaad launchers had been brought into the country without his knowledge. The Blue House said earlier this month that the Ministry of National Defense intentionally omitted the delivery of the launchers in its report to the National Security Office.

Meetings between President Moon and members of the U.S. Congress also fell through recently.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, had requested a meeting with Moon sometime between May 27 and 28, but the meeting was not scheduled after days of attempts.

“The date that McCain asked for did not work with Moon’s schedule initially, so we got back to him in a few days about holding a meeting on May 28, as he requested, but McCain in the end decided not to stop by Korea in his trip to Asia for the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.”

“The correct protocol would have been confirming first that Moon will meet with McCain before scheduling a date,” said a Foreign Ministry insider.

Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Cory Gardner from Colorado, chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, also requested meetings with Moon in late May but they did not take place.

“There is no intention by the Korean government to change the basic agreements in the U.S.-Korea alliance,” said Chung Eui-young, chief of the National Security Office in a press briefing on Sunday.

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, KIM HYUN-KI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]