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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 13)

2018/10/13 09:35

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No need for rift

Two allies should overcome discord to achieve shared goal

It goes without saying that South Korea and the United States are working more closely to achieve the shared goal of denuclearizing North Korea, especially ahead of a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. However, the close Seoul-Washington alliance has come to reveal some schisms over issues such as when and how to ease or lift sanctions against the North.

The latest fracas between the two allies erupted Wednesday when South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the government is reviewing whether to lift sanctions Seoul imposed on the North on May 24, 2010, for the North's deadly attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors in the West Sea.

Kang toned down her remarks made during the National Assembly audit and inspection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But she drew a strong backlash not only from opposition parties but also the Trump administration. The reason for the backlash is that potential easing or lifting of any sanctions against the North could derail U.S.-led efforts to get the North to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

First, Minister Kang should have been more careful talking about any government stance on the May 24 sanctions. The lifting of sanctions should not be discussed separately from the U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

U.S. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have already reaffirmed their position that international sanctions stay in place until Pyongyang denuclearizes. The Moon Jae-in administration has so far fully endorsed the U.S. stance.

Against this backdrop, Minister Kang's remarks must have been a surprise to the U.S. It was not strange for the Trump government to lodge a protest against what Kang said. But Trump seemed to overreact to her by immediately saying, "They won't do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval."

   However, Trump has triggered a controversy over the longstanding alliance between Seoul and Washington by using the term "approval." Such a word is not only seen as aggressive but also undiplomatic. It should not be used by any head of state because it could infringe on the sovereignty of another country. The term may reflect Trump's arrogant and self-serving "America first" agenda.

The reaction from Trump is of little help in stepping up cooperation on forming a united front against Kim's nuclear ambitions. It could only bring about a rift between the South and the U.S. and weaken their alliance. Furthermore it could create a hole in the sanctions regime against the North.

Of course, we have to admit there are some differing opinions between any close allies. Secretary Pompeo expressed his opposition to Seoul's singing of an inter-Korean agreement to ease military tensions, including the extension of a no-fly zone over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Such a problem certainly occurred due to a lack of consultation between the South and the U.S.

Now at stake is how to boost consultations to prevent any misunderstandings between the two allies. More importantly, the two sides should make sure they continue to work together to achieve a final, fully verified denuclearization of the North. President Moon needs to push for inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation in lock step with progress in the North's denuclearization process.

(END)

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