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[EDITORIAL] Foreign Minister's Credentials

Mar 24,2001

It has come as a great surprise that Moscow asked Seoul's support for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Korea while Washington requested Seoul's endorsement of its national missile defense system in the process of negotiations before the summit meetings. In a policy forum Friday, Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn exposed these secrets as he tried to buttress his position that no big problems exist between Seoul and Washington over North Korea policy.

After his remarks caused a hue and cry, Mr. Lee claimed that it was a slip of the tongue; it was not Washington that raised the issue of the NMD, he said, but Russia that broached the subject. He later asked journalists to refrain from reporting Russia's suggestion of the withdrawal of U.S. troops for the sake of the national interest. He blundered by revealing negotiating secrets and then quickly retracting them. What is more important, why did Washington ask Seoul's support for the NMD and why did Moscow suddenly insist on the withdrawal of the USFK? What are the two nations' intentions and what measures is Seoul preparing? Instead of an attempt to paper over the real situation and a request to refrain from media coverage in the name of national interest, Seoul has to disclose what happened from the beginning to the end. Clashing interests have come to the fore: Seoul and Washington on one side, and Seoul and Moscow on the other. His words prove that behind the scenes Washington and Moscow are jockeying for influence over the Korean Peninsula. Seoul's diplomacy has a new challenge.

At such a crucial moment, Seoul's foreign minister inadvertently revealed top secrets in an attempt to rationalize his actions in connection with the AMB Treaty issue specified in the joint statement after the Seoul-Moscow summit talks, which cast a pall on the Seoul-Washington summit. With his long-winded explanation, Mr. Lee managed to undercut Seoul's diplomatic footing. He was preoccupied with rallying from the misstep of agreeing with Russia about ABM. He thus created a rougher road ahead, and we cannot help but worry about Seoul's diplomatic future.


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