[VIEWPOINT]Roh's delegation was blindsidedMuch criticism followed the recent visit by President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's special delegation to Washington. As a member of that delegation and of the president-elect's transition team, let me first express my regret for the serious concerns that many felt about the visit. As someone who prepared for and participated in the visit, I would like to offer some explanations. First, the president-elect's transition team is an entity that has not yet received official powers. Before the inauguration, all authority for the nation's foreign affairs lay with the present administration. Therefore, the purpose of the special delegation's visit had been limited to introducing the president-elect and his policies as well as his position on the U.S.-Korean alliance and a peaceful solution to North Korea's nuclear weapons problem. As such, the delegation consisted of politicians who could deliver Mr. Roh's message, not professional negotiators.
During the two-day visit, the delegation attended 13 meetings and public events. We met and talked with all the central policymakers of the administration with the exception of President Bush. In fact, it is my opinion that the delegation did a successful job in achieving the above-mentioned purposes. One of the results of the earnest discussions with the U.S. officials was the agreement to create a more concentrated channel of talks between the two governments.
The senior representative of the delegation, Chyung Dai-chul, led the delegation's talks with U.S. government officials, and there was no breach of protocol. There were some confusion in answering the media's questions on the content of the conversations and I do offer my sincerest apologies for that.
The event during the visit that seems to have come under heavy criticism was the unofficial meeting with the nongovernment civilian experts prepared to freely exchange opinions about the Korean Peninsula. In that meeting, I tried to deliver the message that it is imperative that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons must be stopped and that we must also avoid the danger of the sort of crisis that occurred in 1994. Because there are Americans who believe that evil regimes "like North Korea" should be toppled, I wanted to convince them of how devastating the consequences could be to the Korean Peninsula.
This is where the pointed question of whether we will choose to have a nuclear-armed North Korea to avoid a war or prefer to see it collapse at the risk of a war was posed by one of the Americans. I told him that many young people in Korea thought that the collapse of North Korea would be accompanied by war and that this should be avoided at all costs. It seems that one of the hard-liners who attended the discussion fed this comment of mine to the media and the affair was then blown out of proportion when reported by the media here at home.
When faced with a question that was framed to get a black-or-white answer, I thought that an honest answer, although it might sound amateurish, instead of diplomatic rhetoric, was in the best interest of our nation. My comment was followed by a U.S. expert who stated that the consequences of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be much more serious for South Korea than for the United States, and that South Korea's concern was fully understandable.
Having lived and witnessed many things in Washington for nearly 10 years, I would like to ask how hard sophisticated diplomats and professionals from Korea have tried to speak out in the best interests of Korea?
If they had, we likely would not have gone to the brink of war in 1994, and we would have been given prior consultations at each of the four phases of the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops in Korea. The U.S.-Korea summit meeting in March 2001 would not have been so disastrous, either.
Reading and watching the news coverage, I have some questions to make to journalists. Some senior U.S. officials have made remarks directly related to the fate of Korea -- they would not rule out the possibility of pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear program.
Why aren't there any op-ed columns or editorials that ask why the United States had made these comments without prior consultation with its ally?
The U.S.-Korean alliance is as important to us as the air we breathe. Why don't we try verifying our difference in opinions first and then try to narrow the gap?
* The writer, an international relations professor at Seoul National University, is working as the foreign affairs and national security adviser for President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's transition team.
by Yoon Young-kwan