[TODAY]Maybe Roh can redeem himself

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[TODAY]Maybe Roh can redeem himself

It was a long speech that could hardly be matched in Korea’s diplomatic history. President Roh Moo-hyun’s speech in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, which directly challenged the United States’ perception of the North Korean nuclear problem, continued as the president traveled to Santiago, London, Warsaw, Paris and ended in the camp of the Zayituun unit in Iraq. It was confirmed by a high-ranking government source that his remarks upset the Bush administration, particularly neo-conservatives in the United States.
President Roh shocked the United States with his abrupt remarks in Los Angeles that North Korea’s nuclear development could have been done in self-defense. In Europe as well, he criticized the United States and praised Europe.
But then, on his way back to Korea, he changed the direction of his exclusive aircraft toward the Persian Gulf and suddenly visited the Korean troops in Iraq. It was a ploy that may have offset some of the anti-American tone of the remarks that he had made up until then.
For modernists who think diplomatic customs and modest thinking are golden rules, Mr. Roh might be considered an unstable post-modernist. His words were like a rugby ball, which bounces here and there unpredictably with each moment. I can well imagine why his meeting with ethnic Koreans was called panicky.
President Roh used rough expressions that showed he could not be cooperative with those who are trying to resolve the nuclear problem by changing the North Korean regime, and he also showed that if he has to argue over the issue, he would be willing to do so.
This is a strong message that Seoul will never agree if Washington attempts to solve the North Korean nuclear problem with military power or economic pressure, not with dialogue.
His remarks that South Korea and China do not want the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime drew a clear line between South Korea and the United States, regarding the perception of North Korea’s actions.
As to issues unrelated to North Korea, Mr. Roh also did not hesitate to make remarks that hurt the pride of the American people. He criticized the Korean economy as being too slanted toward American theories. These words reflect his well-known favoritism of a British, French and German-style third way.
He also said that the French Revolution was the greatest action in mankind’s history. Anyone can make an assessment of the French Revolution from the perspective of the history of civilization, but many Americans think that the intellectual property rights of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen stem from the United States.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen that the French National Assembly promulgated in 1789 as a preamble to the new constitution was directly influenced by the Declaration of Independence that the United States proclaimed in 1776.
President Roh returned to South Korea after basically having told the world, in a very loud voice, that the United States was still attached to the notion of overthrowing the Kim Jong-il regime. With this accusation, he was trying to prevent a situation in which the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration might put an end to the North Korean nuclear crisis as they saw fit.
With Mr. Roh’s hard-line remarks, the North Korean nuclear problem certainly became subject to the world’s public opinions. Now the neo-cons of the United States can hardly draw up strategy in a secret room to kill Kim Jong-il, just like the Mafia might, and North Korea also must be more sensitive to the world’s opinions.
In a situation where relations between South Korea and the United States are shaky, the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem seems very unlikely. So whenever President Roh makes risky remarks aimed at the United States, we are greatly concerned about whether the relationship between South Korea and the United States might be irrevocably hurt, and as a result North Korea might cross the last deterrence line and pursue the development of nuclear weapons.
We do not yet know North Korea’s response to his remarks. But to the questions Mr. Roh had raised, some feedback came from the United States.
For example, President Bush’s presumptive national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said that what the United States wanted in North Korea was not regime change but transformation of the regime. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said attacks on North Korea would be irresponsible behavior. I don’t think these comments were made coincidentally.
Many people say they feel uneasy when they hear Mr. Roh’s wild remarks, unrestrained by diplomacy. Their concern is natural.
But we are also relieved to see that Mr. Roh’s visit to the Zayituun troops might have appeased the United States after he made his cutting anti-American remarks in Los Angeles, London, Warsaw and Paris. From a long-term perspective, aren’t diplomatic customs changeable too?

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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