[EDITORIALS]An unnecessary tiffKorea and the United States have not yet come to an agreement over the reduction of Korea’s Zaytun peacekeeping unit in Iraq. The Ministry of Defense said Friday that it would ask the National Assembly to approve a withdrawal of 1,000 soldiers there but extend the deployment of a Korean contingent for an additional year.
But when the news came out, Washington reportedly complained strongly that it had not heard anything about the matter through official channels in advance of the announcement. U.S. officials here were especially perturbed, apparently, that the news was broken during the visit of President George W. Bush to this country.
As the controversy grew, a senior Ministry of Defense official explained that the ministry had discussed this issue in close cooperation with its U.S. counterpart beginning two or three months ago and that U.S. officials had expressed their understanding. Concerning the timing of the ministry’s announcement, coinciding with President Bush’s visit, the official explained that it was inevitable to bring up the bill in the National Assembly in December because of the Assembly’s schedule. He added that the ministry had wanted to propose the bill behind closed doors, but that it had failed to win the cooperation of the media.
The official’s explanation suggests that the ministry had no intention of provoking the United States. We regret, though, that the ministry was not more prudent in handling the matter. But if it is true that the withdrawal had been discussed in advance, U.S. officials should not try to make the problem bigger than it is.
There had already been one instance of discord between the two nations over a Korean troop reduction in Iraq in April. The United States claimed that Korea had withdrawn 500 soldiers unilaterally. Korea stated that it had only withdrawn 200 soldiers, because the Korean area of operations had been reduced. It said the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq had been notified.
The Korean troops in Iraq went a long way toward easing tensions over the realignment of the U.S. troop presence in Korea. Our unit was a great help to the United States when it was in the slough of rebuilding Iraq, and a symbol of the strong alliance between the two countries.
Any further distrust between Korea and the United States over the unit will help neither. The two governments should cooperate more closely in order to prevent any more unnecessary misunderstanding.