U.S. and Korea commemorate ties

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U.S. and Korea commemorate ties


Lee Hong-koo, left, former Korean ambassador to the United States, speaks at the “Dialogue with Ambassadors” event held in the Lotte Hotel Seoul, central Seoul, yesterday. [NEWS1]

To commemorate 60 years of relations between the United States and Korea, the largest group of current and former U.S. and Korean ambassadors gathered in Seoul to discuss military ties and the looming threat of the North.

The “Dialogue with Ambassadors” was held jointly by the Korea Foundation and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul yesterday.

Several former ambassadors from both Korea and the United States emphasized that North Korea is a key factor underpinning their mutual alliance, which dates back to 1953, but said that the Korea-U.S. relationship has advanced to a partnership that amounts to more than a military relationship.

“As we look ahead, the North Korean threat is increasing, it’s not diminishing,” said Alexander Vershbow, deputy secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), who served as ambassador from 2005 to 2008. He added that the two countries must forge a stronger military relationship, focusing their efforts on missile defense.

Choi Young-jin, who was ambassador to Washington from 2012 to 2013, also cited China as a crucial supporter in South Korea’s dealings with the North.

“There are two absolutely necessary relationships for the future of Korea: the alliance with the U.S. and cooperation with China,” he said.

Regarding North Korea, Choi added: “China has every reason to side with us … My contact with America and China, and the people who know China, assured me that China will deal with the North Korea issue in a more proactive way. We just hope China will deliver before the red line approaches.”

But the meeting wasn’t all business.

“We are here today to celebrate the story of the U.S.-Korean relationship and how its miracle came about,” said Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea Chair at the CSIS. “We wanted to make history by bringing together as many ambassadors, our former alliance managers, as possible.”

Over the course of the event, the ambassadors recounted their experiences serving as diplomats under various heads of state and the evolution of Korea-U.S. relations, which was sometimes rocky.

Vershbow said that despite strained relations with Washington under President Roh Moon-hyun, “President Roh did a lot to transform and reshape the military alliance.”

Vershbow said they had made some serious breakthroughs at the time, which included the establishment of the base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and the push for the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which helped in “reaching an understanding and [forming] a more balanced partnership.”

Donald Gregg, the most senior of the former U.S. ambassadors to Korea present at the panel, having served from 1989 to 1993, recounted his experiences over the course of his career.

Gregg first visited Korea in 1968 as an agent for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

“I’ve known every single president of Korea since Pack Chung Hee,” said Gregg. He lauded former Presidents Park, Roh Tae-woo and Kim Dae-jung, who he said he considered to be the most significant in Korean history.

President Park Geun-hye is an “accomplished, powerful, intelligent woman,” he added.

“If she really moves forward on [trust politique policy on North Korea], she might wind up as the fourth truly great president that South Korea has produced,” he said.

Eleven former ambassadors, including Kathleen Stephens, Christopher Hill, Lee Hong-koo and Hang Sung-joo and other experts, earlier held closed-door roundtable talks on U.S.-Korea ties thus far and the challenges ahead for the Park and Obama administrations.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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