The two faces of America

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The two faces of America


From the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Korea is over 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles) from America, and the time difference is 13 hours. But compared to the psychological gap between the two countries, the physical distance feels rather close.

Last week, I attended a seminar hosted by the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, DC, called “Rewriting the U.S.-South Korea Civil Nuclear Agreement: What it Means for Future Relations.” Afterward, a number of American attendees raised their hands - most of them from the Department of State. They basically said that Washington can’t trust Seoul, which demands the authority to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

President Park Chung Hee pursued independent nuclear development in the 1970s. They also argue that there are people in South Korea who advocate nuclear armament.

With the situation in the North, if South Korea uses the reprocessing right to develop a nuclear program, a nuclear arms race would result in Northeast Asia.

The counterargument - that South Korea is the fifth-largest nuclear power generator in the world and the only country where reprocessing is banned - did not convince them. Korea’s storage capacity for used nuclear fuel will be saturated by 2016. If the South Korea-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement is not revised before it expires in March, South Korea’s $18.6 billion nuclear power plant export deal with the United Arab Emirates may be hindered. But that argument came up way short of convincing the participants.

Denuclearization and nonproliferation are sacred values in U.S. foreign policy. Even what President Obama calls “the best alliance in the world” cannot violate these values.

Washington’s attitude may seem coldhearted, but it’s not the first time it’s shown that it is two-faced. America is a partner of China on security and North Korean nuclear issues, but an enemy to Beijing when it comes to cybersecurity and the yuan. U.S. foreign policy becomes hostile when its national interests are challenged.

When Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Congressman and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce met with Park Geun-hye during the transition period, Park stressed the agreement should be renewed before it expires. So the rupture may affect Park’s summit with Obama in May. The Korean Embassy in the United States is in a state of emergency.

In the nuclear agreement, the United States has the upper hand. Diplomacy is about maximizing our interests while not damaging our partner’s. We need to make a bigger investment in diplomacy to secure our interests.

*The author is the JoongAng Ilbo Washington bureau chief.

By Park Seung-hee

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