[VIEWPOINT]Five tough questions face Roh

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[VIEWPOINT]Five tough questions face Roh

When President Roh travels to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 14 he can expect the warm welcome and red carpet treatment that a close friend and ally deserves.
He can also expect a lot of questions from the press and from his interlocutors in the administration and the Congress.
President Roh’s easygoing manner and honesty will create good chemistry in those meetings, but official Washington will be very keen to see what he has to say on some important issues.
I don’t know exactly what those questions will be, but it is a safe bet that they might include the following:
1. Are you committed to completing a R.O.K.-U.S. Free Trade Agreement?
The R.O.K.-U.S. free trade agreement is a net win for U.S. and Korean strategic and economic interests, but there are groups on both sides opposed to the deal.
The impression in Washington is that the Bush administration is ready to win passage of the FTA in Congress and that key leaders in both parties are ready to help, but only if they have a clear signal from President Roh that the Blue House is also going to help break through the logjams on the Korean side.
2. What will the Republic of Korea do if North Korea tests a nuclear weapon?
One of the basic rules of press relations for the government is to never answer hypothetical questions.
So if the press asks this question the best answer is to demonstrate confidence in the diplomatic process and solidarity between the United States and the Republic of Korea. Anything less or more might send the wrong signal to North Korea and increase the dangers of escalation.
In private, however, President Roh should be ready to engage frankly on this scenario as allies do.
Even more important will be the discussion of how to stop North Korea from taking that provocative step.
3. Should the United States be more flexible on Banco Delta Asia?
This question is a real landmine. In my view there is no way that President Bush can tell the American people he intends to tolerate North Korean criminal behavior or counterfeiting in order to facilitate the diplomatic process; nor will he.
Pressing the United States to back off on Banco Delta Asia is not the way to jumpstart the six-party talks. It would be better to use the time exploring other tactics to help the diplomatic process resume.
4. Will the United States and the R.O.K. accelerate the transfer of wartime operational command?
The two leaders can probably reach a broad agreement on the goal of transferring wartime op-con to the R.O.K. Showing a common front on this issue is important.
However, an agreement to accelerate the transfer of wartime op-con on a fixed date without some consideration of North Korea’s actions would send the wrong strategic signal ― it would be unilaterally granting one of Pyongyang’s main demands after it had unilaterally escalated.
It is better to agree on broad principles and then state that the implementation and timing will be determined by the strategic conditions on the peninsula.
5. What is your plan for improving relations with Japan?
There is a lot of concern expressed in Washington about how Tokyo let its relations with Seoul deteriorate these past few years, but President Roh’s interlocutors will probably want to know what his ideas are for improving ties with Japan.
If the answer is that Japan has to do all the work, it may not seem reasonable (even to those who think Japan deserves a lot of blame).
The R.O.K.-U.S.-Japan trilateral relationship is critically important for the United States and all three sides have to do work to repair it.
Other than that, President Roh can expect some fairly easy questions, like “how is your lunch?”
But presidents get paid to answer the hard questions, and there will probably be some hardball questions on this visit. Like all Americans who care about the R.O.K.-U.S. alliance, I wish him a successful summit.

* The writer is former senior director for Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.


by Michael J. Green

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