Korea, U.S. made real gains in summit: experts

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Korea, U.S. made real gains in summit: experts

President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump have managed to put aside their differences over sensitive security and economic issues and successfully secure pragmatic gains, experts said of the latest summit.

Trump completed his two-day visit to Korea on Wednesday and departed for China, the third destination of his five-nation Asia tour. A presidential summit and state dinner took place on Tuesday, followed by Trump’s speech at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

At the press conference on Tuesday following their summit, Moon and Trump vowed to achieve a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, without mentioning previous discord between Seoul and Washington over the U.S. assessment of a military option for dealing with the North and a push for a Korea-U.S.-Japan security alliance.

“Korea made it clear that it wants a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the nuclear crisis, and the United States made realistic demands such as arms sales and economic cooperation, while it agrees to continue cooperate with security and denuclearization issues,” said Lee Hee-ok, professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. “The two leaders also managed to give an indirect message to China that it should exert more sanctions on the North.”

Lee added, “It is still unfortunate that the outcome gives the impression that Moon traded economic and trade issues with security issues.”

It was evident that arms deals were a key part of their summit. According to Yoon Young-chan, Moon’s senior secretary for public affairs, the two leaders ordered their officials to immediately begin discussions on Korea’s acquisition and development of advanced military assets, including reconnaissance assets.

Although details of the deals were not given, Trump appeared pleased. Korea “will be ordering billions of dollars worth of equipment and we’ve already approved some of those orders,” he said, stressing that the deals will create jobs in the United States and help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Korea.

Moon and Trump agreed in September during their summit in New York that they will bolster the Korea-U.S. combined defense posture through Seoul’s procurement and development of advanced military assets. Tuesday’s announcement on arms deals was a follow-up on this agreement.

A presidential source said two particular projects were discussed - the procurement of nuclear-powered submarines, a project long envisioned by Moon, and an advanced surveillance system.

Sources said the United States has positively replied to Korea’s desire to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Washington’s cooperation is crucial due to restrictions on Korea’s reprocessing or enriched uranium purchases under the bilateral nuclear agreement.

A special U.S. congressional approval to allow sales of highly enriched uranium to Korea will make the process easier, but experts are skeptical about the likelihood of such a prospect.

A military source also told the JoongAng Ilbo that Seoul began the process to acquire the Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint Stars), an advanced airborne reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying up to 10 hours and simultaneously tracking 600 targets on the ground within a 250-kilometer (155-mile) range. The military believes the system will be effective in tracking North Korea’s mobile missile launchers.

The cost for each plane was $244.4 million as of 1998, and Korea is seeking to purchase four. Approval from the U.S. Congress is required for sales to a foreign country.

“Trump talked about military power, but he didn’t say he will use it,” said Wi Sung-lac, professor of international relations at Seoul National University. “And Moon said now is the time for sanctions and pressures. That’s what we have to pay attention.”

“It is worth praising that no disagreement was made public and the two leaders demonstrated a strong alliance,” said Yun Duk-min, former chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA). “We fought with the United States side by side, and that is a very important emotional asset that Japan and China do not have. It was a good idea that Moon made a surprise visit to Camp Humphreys to receive Trump and noted that the largest U.S. military base overseas was mainly financed by Korea.”

Another expert, Chun Yung-woo, head of the Korean Peninsula Future Forum who had served as senior security and foreign affairs secretary of the Lee Myung-bak Blue House, said it is noteworthy that the two leaders reaffirmed their strong alliance and cooperation. “There were no surprise remarks that we had been worried about,” he said. “But the summit outcome was also a reiteration of what we had known earlier.”

He said Moon and Trump had earlier shown differences in their North Korea policies and security strategies, and it was unclear if they managed to narrow those gaps during the summit, because their remarks during the press conference were so safe.

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