[EDITORIALS]Break U.S. Embassy logjam

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[EDITORIALS]Break U.S. Embassy logjam

The Ministry of Culture said last week that it would arrange for an archeological exploration at the proposed site of a new U.S. Embassy compound in Seoul. That is welcome news to break a logjam that has caused problems for both the government and the embassy.

The Americans have been looking for a new official home for years; their present building is small and does not meet their standards for security. The government has long been unhappy with the presence of the embassy along the stately main road to the former royal palace, across the street from the prime minister's office. It was at Seoul's request that the embassy agreed to look for alternative sites in an off-again, on-again process that has dragged on for more than 20 years. The United States postponed plans for a new chancery behind Deoksu Palace, on the site of the former Kyonggi Girls' School, when the Soviet Union collapsed; it needed the cash for new embassies in ex-Soviet Central Asia. The plans were revived in the mid-1990s and revised to include a staff housing complex next to the chancery, part of the tract the U.S. has owned since 1884. The United States has already sold its housing compound in Anguk-dong and will move out next year.

There may be some archeological significance to the proposed site on what for some centuries was part of the Deoksu Palace grounds. If there are important relics there, the project should be scrapped, and the embassy has said it would do so. But nearly 20 agencies or firms declined an American contract offer to conduct the necessary survey, some having made it clear that they do not want to risk the wrath of civic groups that oppose any embassy office or housing at the site.

It is commendable that the government has decided to make the bureaucratic wheels move. If the present site proves to be archeologically important, the two governments should move promptly to find another site. That may not be easy -- the Americans will want to be downtown with the other big boys, not tucked away on a side street in Itaewon or in an outer suburb. But finding an alternative is certainly not impossible, and Seoul has a large stake in moving the project along. If it does not, the unhappy status quo will continue.
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