Summit in U.S. may produce a North statement

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Summit in U.S. may produce a North statement

Seoul and Washington are considering issuing a joint statement after the presidential summit next week to address growing security concerns about North Korea, a senior source close to the administration told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.

President Park Geun-hye will visit Washington next week and participate in a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Oct. 16.

“The two governments originally agreed to issue a joint fact sheet on the development of bilateral relations and cooperative measures,” the source said. “But they recently started reviewing a plan to adopt a joint statement. It can also be a joint declaration.”

According to the source, Seoul made the proposal first and Washington responded positively. Although joint fact sheets and joint statements are diplomatic documents that record the outcomes of a summit, a joint statement is considered a notch higher.

The joint statement, if issued, is expected to focus on specific topics rather than general bilateral issues.

“During a discussion at the Kwanhun Club in July, Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se said a new, important agreement on the North can be made in time with the summit,” another government source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We are considering announcing a few important items in the joint statement.”

He said Seoul and Washington may highlight developments related to North Korea in the joint statement and also publish a joint fact sheet to address general Korea-U.S. relations. The joint fact sheet is expected to be about 10 pages, he said.

It is not customary to issue a joint statement after a presidential summit. It is a diplomatic practice to issue a joint statement only when there is an important agreement between the two countries or when it is the first summit between two leaders.

Park’s upcoming summit with Obama is the fourth of its kind. Park, who came into office in February 2013, had her first presidential trip to Washington in May that year.

She had a summit meeting with Obama at the White House and also addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

After the first summit, a joint statement was issued. She had two more summits meetings with Obama, but no joint statements were announced. When Obama visited Korea last year, a joint fact sheet was issued.

Diplomatic observers said a joint statement after next week’s summit will be seen as a symbol of a strong bilateral alliance.

During the upcoming summit, Park and Obama will focus on advancing the two countries’ alliance and cooperation on the North Korea issue, the Blue House said in August when it announced the trip. Since then, Pyongyang warned of a long-range missile test and a nuclear test.

While no other specifics on Park’s trip to Washington were made public, speculation grew that a controversial missile defense system would be discussed between the two countries. National Defense Minister Han Min-koo is expected to accompany Park on her U.S. trip, fueling that speculation.

“We are considering a plan for the defense minister to accompany the president,” a senior presidential official said on Thursday. However, he refused to say if Han is going to Washington to discuss a possible deployment of a U.S.-led anti-ballistic missile system in Korea.

It is rare for a defense minister to be included in the presidential entourage for an overseas trip. President Chun Doo Hwan was accompanied by his defense minister during his 1981 and 1985 trips to the United States, and President Lee Myung-bak did the same in 2011.

The custom is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accompanies the president on overseas trips, while the defense minister remains in the country in case there is any military emergency.

Because the defense chiefs of Seoul and Washington were already scheduled to meet in Seoul next month for the annual Security Consultative Meeting, speculation grew that the placement of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system would be discussed during Park’s visit.

The placement of a Thaad battery on the Korean Peninsula has been a controversial issue linked to both regional security and diplomatic tensions, especially because it comes with a radar system that can reach more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

Both China and Russia say it is against their security interests and could possibly be used as a method of surveillance against them.

During the National Assembly’s audit of the Ministry of National Defense on Thursday, Minister Han said his accompanying Park is currently under consideration. Asked if the Thaad issue will be discussed at the summit, Han said, “It is not something the presidents of the two countries will discuss, and the foreign affairs minister already said so.”

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert also told reporters on Thursday that Park and Obama will have an in-depth discussion on North Korea. However, he denied that the Thaad system will be addressed at the summit. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it will come up,” he said. “I don’t think it will be on the agenda.”

BY SER MYO-JA, YOO JEE-HYE [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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