[EDITORIALS]The damage words can doRemarks made by a head of state at important diplomatic events can have a tremendous impact on a country’s international credibility. The phrase “talks among concerned parties,” which was mentioned by President Roh Moo-hyun at his summit with China’s president, Hu Jintao, certainly falls in this category. The leaders of China and South Korea agreed to work for a peaceful resolution to the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But the Chinese side made it clear that it was against the American formula of putting pressure on the North while pursuing multilateral talks on the issue. By using the phrase “talks among concerned parties” after the agreement, Mr. Roh left himself open to misunderstanding.
Ban Ki-moon, the president’s adviser for foreign policy, said Mr. Roh meant multilateral talks and that the Chinese side agreed to such a necessity. In other words, Mr. Roh made a slip-of-the-tongue. This is understandable, but think of the importance of the meeting and the North’s nuclear threat, which is the reason for Mr. Roh’s trip to Beijing, following his recent travels to the United States and Japan. After consultations with these allies, Seoul has come to agree that the North’s nuclear crisis should be resolved through multilateral talks and pressure.
Washington and Tokyo have been watching carefully for Seoul’s position at the Beijing summit. At such a delicate time, Mr. Roh bungled his words and his aides tried to save the situation. Some observers suspect his words were not a mistake. “Talks among concerned parties” is a phrase often used by North Korea in their official papers referring to bilateral talks with the United States. There is reason, therefore, to be suspicious.
Considering the urgency of the nuclear crisis, the government has taken the position that it does not care about the format of the talks -- whether they are five-way or six-way. Flexibility, however, should not bend our position to the point of using words used by the North. It will make our allies wonder where we stand. We have to convey our position clearly to our allies. Damaging remarks cannot be explained as slips-of-the-tongue.