[Outlook]Roh’s faulty judgmentAfter President Roh Moo-hyun said that a peace treaty is the core agenda item for the upcoming summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, I had to review what happened last week in Sydney.
On Sept. 7 in Sydney, Australia, during a press conference after a South Korea-U.S. summit meeting on the sidelines of the APEC forum, President Roh urged U.S. President George W. Bush to clearly endorse the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, or a declaration to formally end the Korean War. Roh said the Korean people wanted to hear these words.
Bush had actually mentioned it before Roh asked him to do so. The U.S. president reaffirmed that a new security arrangement could only be realized when North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons. The interpreter accidentally failed to deliver that part of the message.
Bush said that signing a peace treaty ending the Korean War depended on Kim Jong-il. But the interpreter translated the expression as “to offer a peace regime,” instead of “to sign a peace treaty.”
Roh said that he still did not hear Bush mention a declaration to end the Korean War. The Korean president then even mentioned Kim Jong-il and said that both Kim and the South Koreans wanted to hear it. Bush, looking irritated, replied that “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President.”
The Blue House and the White House explained the misstep as an accident caused by an interpreter’s mistakes. Most media outlets accepted the explanation. But there is one thing that neither party can hide successfully. That is, Roh’s strong determination to sign a peace treaty or a peace declaration during the inter-Korean summit meeting.
Let’s hear what Michael Green, the former director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council, has to say. According to his column in the Sept. 13 issue of the JoongAng Daily, Roh pushed the U.S. president publicly for a clear separation of the peace treaty from the denuclearization process.
“Roh ended up with precisely the answer he did not want,” Green wrote. “Now the linkage between denuclearization and a peace treaty has been made firm by the president of the United States ― and in front of the entire world.”
Well, President Roh played the role of Kim Jong-il’s spokesman well.
Four days after the summit meeting, Roh’s intentions became clear: He wants to be remembered as South Korea’s peace president by signing a declaration or a treaty on peace with Kim Jong-il. This is also a way to deter the Grand National Party’s candidate from being elected president.
Roh also went to the Blue House press room to offer his explanations for two recent scandals, one about a newly resigned presidential chief policy secretary’s inappropriate relationship with disgraced art curator Shin Jeong-ah, and the other about Jung Yun-jae, a former presidential protocol secretary. Roh also talked about the upcoming summit meeting. He said, “Now there could be a peace declaration and negotiations for that could begin. It is more than whether I intend to suggest this. This is the important task for the upcoming summit meeting.”
The president also said that discussing North Korea’s nuclear program during the summit would be the same as asking him to pick a fight with Kim at the meeting. He implied that the nuclear issue is being resolved through the six-party talks, so he would cling to the peace regime issue.
One day later, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said it would be a problem to declare an end to the war before a peace regime is established. It seems clear that Roh ignored aides’ advice on the issue. Now, when there are no measures yet to build trust or to ease military tension, to declare an end to the war or to sign a peace treaty would not only create chaos in affairs related to the United Nations Command and U.S. troops in Korea, but also result in accepting North Korea as a nuclear state.
Signing a peace treaty without resolving North Korea’s nuclear issue would surely result in conflict with the United States. Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, wrote in a column for the JoongAng Ilbo that it is worrisome that efforts to sign a peace treaty at the upcoming summit meeting would dilute the importance of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Even if North Korea’s nuclear facilities are disabled within this year, there are more obstacles ahead before the successful abolition of Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.
Roh must hear responsible words from Kim Jong-il about denuclearization and his support for the six-party talks’ effort to resolve the nuclear issue. He doesn’t need to resolve the nuclear issue, but is he afraid that he would upset Kim Jong-il, if he even mentions the nuclear issue?
Roh used to charge straight ahead when pushing South Korea’s privileged class or the United States on various issues. Where is the spirit he used to have then? If he is afraid to discuss the nuclear issue, the premise for peace, he might as well give up any discussion of peace. A peace treaty without a real peace regime is like a body without organs.
As for the Shin scandal, the president confessed that he had lost confidence in his judgment. However, his judgment on peace, an issue affecting the whole nation and the world, has even more serious problems. His visit to Pyongyang now seems entirely too risky.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie