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Blue House tells adviser his trial balloon failed

It remains unclear if ideas originally came from president or not
June 20,2017
The Blue House said Monday a warning was issued to a special adviser to the president for upsetting Washington on the eve of President Moon Jae-in’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Moon Chung-in, presidential special adviser for unification, foreign and national security affairs, stirred up a controversy with remarks at a forum on the U.S.-Korea alliance at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on Friday. If North Korea suspends nuclear and missile activities, South Korea could consult with the United States to scale down joint military exercises and reduce deployment of U.S. strategic weapons to the South, Moon, a professor at Yonsei University, said. He also said that President Moon had proposed the idea as an “incremental” solution to the North Korean nuclear threat.

“An official in charge told him today that his remarks are not helping Korea-U.S. relations looking to the future,” a senior Blue House official said in a background briefing Monday.

The official refused to give a clear answer when asked if the special adviser’s remarks were contrary to the policy of the Moon administration. “I cannot say for sure how far his remarks agree with it or not,” he said. “It was one of many ideas to resolve North Korea’s continuing nuclear tests and missile launches and to create a new breakthrough.”

“And that is something to be decided through close consultations between South Korea and the United States,” he said. “It’s not feasible just because one person says it.”

Speculation still lingers that the special adviser’s remarks were made on the direct order of the Blue House.

If they were, it was a trial balloon that was quickly burst.

The Blue House said Sunday the remarks were the professor’s personal opinion, and added Monday that the special adviser did not consult with the president before his trip to Washington. It, however, admitted that the special adviser visited the presidential office before his visit to Washington and met with Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office.

After the meeting, Chung reportedly said the special adviser spoke about his views, but he thought it was just an unofficial exchange of ideas. “It was not a meeting for them to coordinate what should be said in the United States,” a Blue House source said. “But I don’t know the exact contents of their discussion.”

Officials also said President Moon made no reaction to the controversy.

A strategist of the Blue House told the JoongAng Ilbo that the administration wanted to send a stronger message to the North. “The president already made a proposal to the North that unconditional dialogue will be offered in return for suspending provocations in his speech to mark the anniversary of the June 15, 2000 North-South Joint Declaration,” he said.

“There was a need to send a clearer message to the North. Special adviser Moon’s remarks are controversial in terms of strategy for their timing and method, but the substance is not widely different from the framework the Blue House is planning.”

Another official who participated in creating foreign and national security policy for Moon’s presidential campaign said special adviser Moon actually “preemptively scratched an itching spot for President Moon.” He said the special adviser’s remarks created room for President Moon to speak more freely at the upcoming summit, scheduled for next week.

The ruling Democratic Party also tried to defend the administration and the special adviser. “Prudently informing Washington about comprehensive issues concerning the Korean Peninsula is the right thing to do to protect our national security,” Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae said Monday at the Supreme Council meeting. “Special adviser Moon’s remarks are a high-level political act to signal that we are reviewing what to offer in order to bring the North to a dialogue,” said Rep. Woo Sang-ho, former floor leader of the party, in a radio interview.

A senior opposition politician supported that idea.

“The timing and place were inappropriate, but the substance was right,” Rep. Park Jie-won, former head of the People’s Party, wrote on his Facebook page. Park, one of the closest associates of the late President Kim Dae-jung, also quoted former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry as saying it’s too late to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs and that Korea-U.S. joint military drills can be scaled down or stopped in return for Pyongyang freezing its nuclear and missile programs. The conservative opposition Liberty Korea and Bareun Parties, however, demanded special adviser Moon resign.

“He is a ticking time bomb,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader and acting chairman of the Liberty Korea Party. “He must resign instead of working as a mentor to the president.”

Bareun Party’s acting head, Rep. Joo Ho-young, also said the special adviser must be held accountable for creating turmoil with a “dangerous idea.”

The party’s secretary-general, Rep. Kim Se-yeon, said, “We must imagine Kim Jong-un’s satisfied face at this moment.”

Meanwhile, the Blue House said Monday that Hong Seok-hyun has repeatedly declined to serve as Moon’s special adviser for unification, foreign affairs and national security. Moon announced on May 21 that he named Professor Moon and Hong, chairman of the Korea Peninsula Forum, as special advisers.

“After the nomination, Hong repeatedly informed the Blue House of his intention to decline,” a senior presidential aide said. He also admitted that the communication was not smooth for the nomination process. The announcement was made while Hong was returning from Washington after meeting with Trump and other U.S. officials as a special presidential envoy.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]