[EDITORIALS]Unwise remarksForeign media outlets reported President Roh Moo-hyun’s annual New Year press conference on Wednesday as important news, focusing on a difference between South Korea’s and the United States’ views on North Korea policies. The Associated Press reported, “South Korea’s president warned Washington against pressuring North Korea to force the totalitarian regime’s collapse.” The AFP said, quoting Mr. Roh, “The South Korean government does not agree with some forces in the United States that raise issues about North Korea’s regime, put pressure on it and apparently desire to see its collapse. If the U.S. government tries to resolve problems through this kind of method, there will be friction and differences of opinion between South Korea and the United States.”
Mr. Roh seems to have meant that if some U.S. hard-liners’ intentions to cause the North Korean regime’s collapse was behind Washington’s recent pressure on North Korea over the country’s alleged illegalities, including counterfeiting of U.S. currency, South Korea would not overlook that. But, by getting a blow in on some forces in the United States, Mr. Roh has given the world the impression that South Korea and the United States are suffering serious differences in their views on North Korea policies.
It is Washington’s official line that it does not pursue the collapse of the North Korean regime. That was confirmed in a summit meeting between South Korea and the United States in Gyeongju, last November. In that meeting, Mr. Roh and U.S. President George W. Bush emphasized the importance of a peaceful solution of the North Korea nuclear issue. However, Mr. Roh, in his New Year press conference, highlighted the gap between his view and that of some U.S. hawks, making relations between the two countries, which were already not smooth, rougher. That was not wise.
There can be differences between the views of South Korea and the United States and that is natural. It is the duty of diplomats to narrow those gaps through conversation and negotiation. Perhaps for that reason, Mr. Roh has stepped back, saying he will entrust confirmation of North Korea’s alleged U.S. currency forgery to working-level officials. If the president deals directly with important diplomatic issues, working level officials will see room for their discretion narrow. Accordingly, the president needs to be soft and careful when making remarks on diplomatic issues. Remarks that stimulate conflict between Korea and the United States will be of no help.