[OUTLOOK]Troops owed Roh’s Iraq visit

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[OUTLOOK]Troops owed Roh’s Iraq visit

President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to the Zayituun unit in the Iraqi town of Irbil was an impressive scene. Regardless of our political position on the war, it was a grand gesture that the supreme commander of the Republic of Korea personally visited and encouraged hard-working Korean troops on foreign soil tens of thousands of miles away from home.
Some might oppose President Roh’s surprise visit to Irbil if they are against the war in Iraq and are anti-American.
However, they are wrong to condemn the president’s action. The president’s decision to send troops risks young soldiers’ lives. It is only human and professional for him to visit the soldiers and praise their sense of duty and courage.
By reassuring the soldiers that “your sweat is the strength of Korea’s diplomacy,” President Roh stressed the meaning of Korea’s troop dispatch to Iraq.
“When I said I was the president of the Republic of Korea, I was treated well,” added the president, proudly acknowledging the country’s status in the international community.
His testimony that “South Korea has grown up to be recognized like this!” was surely the most persuasive truth to radical students who have opposed the dispatch of troops to Iraq claiming that it was a sign of Seoul’s diplomatic subordination to Washington.
Over the strategy and methods for the nation’s development, we have had experiences of having divergent opinions and even conflicts. However, one thing is certain: Even when Koreans revile and fight each other, the nation has never ceased in its drive for rapid growth.
Because of its economic growth and achievement, Korea’s presence cannot be ignored in the international community, and the president himself is feeling the status better than anyone else.
President Roh’s visit to Irbil has important meaning for the Korea-U.S. alliance. Although Korea accepted Washington’s request and sent troops to Iraq, it has certainly left an impression that the troops dispatch was not voluntary at all. However, the moment President Roh personally landed in Iraq, he projected a far more powerful symbolic effect than with any word he said.
In retrospect, President Roh might have made a series of comments that could be misread as anti-American during his overseas tour starting from Los Angeles because he had a plan to visit Irbil at the end of the trip.
Considering all the remarks by the president during the tour, the Korean government clearly does not agree with Washington’s position on the North Korean nuclear issue. Even after the visit to Irbil, the task still remains of converging Seoul and Washington’s position on the nuclear issue to a consistent policy. Fortunately, there is an option that can accommodate both countries’ hopes and concerns.
Substantially, Korea’s priority is to prevent a war on the Korean Peninsula and have Pyeongyang give up its nuclear projects. Washington does not want a war either, but it cannot tolerate the nuclear development no matter what.
The mutual goal is to diplomatically resolve the situation through dialogue. The problem is what happens if talks fail. Naturally, Washington is likely to favor various sanctions and pressures, and Seoul has no clear position yet.
Other partners in the six-way talks are lukewarm on the issue. In that case, if Washington wants Seoul to agree to a pressure-oriented policy, it should promise specific and sufficient incentives to North Korea in case it decides to give up the nuclear project.
Only when there is an international consensus on Washington’s strategy will the international community approve a second phase of sanctions and actions against North Korea.
After all, Washington has a grave responsibility. However, we should all remember that the United States would feel unpleasant if we continue to scream not to attack Pyeongyang, despite Washington’s repeated promise that it would not launch a military attack.
Now, it’s time to come up with a tangible negotiation strategy to persuade North Korea through a quiet consultation between Korean and U.S. authorities. President Roh’s visit to Irbil created an ideal atmosphere to start a more mature discussion between Seoul and Washington.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-won
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