Obama reaffirms allianceLeaders of South Korea and the United States began their third summit with a moment of silence to pay tribute to the more than 300 victims - mostly high school students - dead or missing in the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry. On his fourth visit to Korea, President Barack Obama offered to bow his head along with President Park Geun-hye to extend his “deepest sympathies for the incredible and tragic loss that has taken place.” He then presented the Korean president with a framed American flag that he said was flying at the White House the day the ferry sank. The token and gesture underscore the depth of friendship between the two traditional allies.
Seoul and Washington focused on reinforcing their alliance and addressing the renewed nuclear threat from Pyongyang. For the first time, Washington indicated it may postpone the return of wartime operational control to Korea, currently scheduled to occur next year. “We can reconsider the 2015 timeline for transferring operational control for our alliance,” Obama said in a joint news conference with Park. Last year, Seoul asked Washington to again delay the transfer, which was originally planned for 2012 and then pushed back to 2015 after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test.
But the delay in the timeline should not interrupt efforts to bolster our military command and the security posture in accordance with the United States rebalancing its military strategy. Even though wartime control is put off, Korea cannot depend on the U.S. defense commitment as it previously did.
In the alliance, mutual trust is as important as following the chain of command. The two countries decided to hold two-plus-two meetings of foreign and defense ministers this year. Seoul and Washington also reiterated that their alliance is the linchpin of peace and security in the region.
They urged Pyongyang not to defy international warnings and commitments. To demonstrate their alliance on the security front, the two leaders made a rare visit to the Korea-U.S. joint command and the Yongsan Garrison, headquarters of the U.S. military. North Korea cannot rebuild its economy while pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The two leaders also decided to jointly address human rights in North Korea. Regrettably, though, they stopped short of presenting concrete action plans to resolve the North Korean nuclear threat even as there are increasing signs that the country is poised for a fourth nuclear test.
Obama also called Japan’s mobilization of Korean “comfort women” during World War II a “terrible and egregious violation of human rights” and urged Tokyo to recognize the past “honestly and fairly.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must think about what it means for Japan.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 26, Page 26
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