Come clean

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Come clean

The Blue House has flip-flopped again on President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff’s suspicious visit to the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 11. In a meeting with the press at the National Assembly Tuesday, Han Byung-do, presidential secretary for political affairs, underscored that Im Jong-seok’s trip to the UAE had nothing to do with the construction of Korean nuclear reactors there. Instead, Han said, he went to the Arab country to deliver a presidential letter from Moon to promote bilateral relations.

The Blue House’s succession of excuses have triggered a call for an investigation into the chief of staff’s dubious trip from the opposition Liberty Korea Party, which went so far as to demand a legislative probe. Many people suspect that Im went to the UAE to help ease growing concerns about the construction, maintenance and operation of four Korean reactors after President Moon vowed to phase out nuclear reactors in South Korea itself.

The Blue House’s explanations about the purpose of Im’s visit have taken us through a veritable hall of mirrors. In the beginning, it said Im went to the UAE to cheer up our UN soldiers there. Then the explanation changed to a need to exchange intelligence with the UAE, to an urgent request from its crown prince, and to a need to restore relations that had turned sour during the Park Geun-hye administration.

Now the Blue House says it needed to have hand-delivered President Moon’s letter to promote mutual friendship and cooperation. Such an explanation is hard to buy. How can our government talk about better relations with the country without mentioning a $68.8 billion project involving the construction and maintenance of the reactors?

If the Blue House continues to invent new explanations, questions are unlikely to stop. If it insists on a blurry stance, the issue could easily escalate into a scandal. At the current pace, the Blue House will most likely turn this episode into the epicenter of a disaster. The only way out of the predicament is giving a frank answer. When asked if the Blue House is willing to clarify the purpose of Im’s visit off the record, a senior presidential secretary said, “Why not — as long as it really benefits our national interests.” Candid explanations about Im’s trip are what the public and opposition parties want now.

Any attempt to cover up his mysterious trip cannot work. If the Blue House does not give a transparent answer to allay reasonable suspicions, it will only backfire. We hope it comes up with frank answers. That’s the only way to prevent a crisis.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 34
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