A New SOFA Is Overdue

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A New SOFA Is Overdue

It is said that the talks between the United States and Korea on the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement, a topic that is of great interest to the public here, are on the verge of breaking down. The negotiations began on Dec. 1 with the goal of completing an accord while President Bill Clinton is still in office, but so far the two sides have not been able to agree on any of the core points of dispute and the scheduled ending date has already passed. The talks may be extended for a day or two on a directive from Washington, but the predominant feeling is that this round will end without any settlement.

The two sides have drafted agreements on six issues, including jurisdiction over criminal cases and environmental protection, but have been unable to narrow their wide differences over certain sensitive aspects. Even the question of criminal jurisdiction, which was thought to have been settled, appears to be back at square one because of unacceptable American demands that the crimes in question be spelled out in specific provisions and that U.S. Army suspects be allowed to question their accusers and witnesses. Also, the United States is insisting that environmental provisions not be included in the text of the SOFA, which would make them legally binding. Instead, the American side proposes issuing a separate declaration. All of this casts doubt over U.S. willingness to revise the SOFA.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the SOFA, which was concluded in the early ''60s at the height of the Cold War, lacks impartiality. Times have changed and it is only logical that the contents of that agreement should be amended to suit the current situation. The United States claims that if it accepts Korean demands, it will be forced to renegotiate similar agreements with more than 80 countries where its forces are stationed, but this is an exaggeration. Korea is asking that its SOFA be brought up to the same standard as those of Japan and Germany. The United States needs to remember that it is in this country as much in its own interest as in Korea''s. We urge the United States to extend the period of negotiations so that an agreement can be reached before Clinton leaves office. This problem should not be left over for the next U.S. administration.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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