[EDITORIALS]A very important meetingAmid concerns over the health of the alliance between South Korea and the United States, particularly as it applies to the North Korean nuclear issue, presidents Roh Moo-hyun and George W. Bush will meet in Washington Saturday. This summit, as a top Korean diplomat puts it, “takes place when the repercussions from the rift or conflict in the alliance have increased to such a degree as to shake the identity of the Roh administration,” and “has very important implications in regard to the countries’ relations during the past 10 or more years.”
Since Mr. Roh took office and Mr. Bush was re-elected, the two countries have been at odds over Plan 5029, “strategic flexibility,” Korea’s “balancer role” in Northeast Asia, the construction of a new U.S. Embassy building in Seoul and the relocation of the Yongsan U.S. Army base. Explanations from Seoul and Washington aside, such issues have produced the public perception that conflict between South Korea and the United States has reached a peak. Such cases as the accidental deaths of two middle-school girls struck by a U.S. armored vehicle have made Seoul and Washington concerned about the soundness of the alliance. The difference in perspectives between Seoul and Washington over the North Korean nuclear issue, along with the year-long suspension of the six-party talks, has also compelled the two presidents to remove any rifts in the alliance as soon as possible.
If Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush reach an agreement on the future of the alliance and the handling of the nuclear issue, and demonstrate the health of that alliance to the world, they will greatly contribute to the stabilization not just of their own countries, but of Northeast Asia and the world. It is an opportune time for such a meeting, with their defense ministers having reached an accord on Plan 5029 for dealing with a regime collapse in the North, and with contact between Pyongyang and Washington having recently resumed in New York.
The Yongsan garrison and U.S. Embassy building issues are also largely resolved, and are awaiting ratification by the National Assembly. Furthermore, South Korea is faithfully carrying out its anti-terror and war efforts in Iraq, and has also contributed financially to the Iraq war, which contributes to the building of mutual trust.
Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush should use this meeting to resolve any concerns about the alliance, and to prepare a basis for continuing this 50-year-old relationship into the new century.