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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 19)

2017/06/19 06:58

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Alliance breaker

Top Moon adviser rebuts hardline US approach on NK

If half the recent assertions made by Moon Chung-in, top adviser of President Moon Jae-in, translated into reality, the Korea-U.S. alliance could easily tumble to the lowest point. The incredulous U.S. State Department commented it could not be the new Seoul government's official position.

Considering the two Moons' close relationship (they are not related) -- the adviser served as "tutor" for Moon's mentor and friend, former late President Roh Moo-hyun -- the State Department's comment would easily turn out to be wishful thinking. Especially as Moon's Washington summit with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump is around the corner, the likelihood is that Moon in advance told what his boss wanted to tell Trump on June 29 to 30.

First, Moon, the architect of Roh's policy of equidistance between China and the U.S. -- negated the importance of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, observing that its withdrawal would not break up the alliance.

"It is hard to accept that THAAD is all about the alliance," he was quoted as saying. This runs contrary to the Washington atmosphere in which Trump and his top lieutenants have increasingly seen it as a test of the alliance's strength.

Now President Moon has put on hold the deployment, saying it needs an environmental impact assessment. Adviser Moon said this would take a year, pouring cold water on U.S. eagerness for early deployment. He spoke during the Wilson Center seminar as part of a familiarization tour for the President's foreign policy.

He dropped another bombshell -- the new government feels uncomfortable with the deployment of U.S. strategic assets such as aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and long-range bombers.

Trump's favorite tactic to deal with the North is to call in a series of carrier battle groups close to the Korean Peninsula or conduct flyovers by strategic bombers in a show of force. Now Moon has made it clear Seoul does not want this, insisting the primary purpose of the North Korean policy should be to reduce tension.

Then he alluded to the possibility of scaling down joint exercises that are aimed at boosting the interoperability of the two militaries and preparing for their combined strategy -- stopping invading North Korean forces until reinforcements arrive from the U.S. mainland.

China's proposal for scaled-down exercises in return for the North's freeze on its asymmetric weapons tests have been largely ignored by Seoul and Washington.

He suggested bringing about the peace regime to replace the current truce, an idea that Beijing has pushed but which the U.S. is not enthusiastic about. This is also anathema to conservatives here who believe it could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Moon said he spoke in his private capacity but it would not be wrong to see him speak on his boss' s behalf, considering the President was bequeathed the reconciliatory policy by Roh and the late former President Kim Dae-jung. Already, experts predict a tough summit because the two leaders are poles apart on many issues and Trump's domestic standing has been considerably weakened amid a scandal over his alleged Russian ties. Moon's assertions may only presage trouble to come.

(END)

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