September 24, 2009 10:08
Signs of discord seem to be emerging between South Korea and the United States regarding a "grand bargain" proposed by President Lee Myung-bak to break the impasse in nuclear dismantlement talks with North Korea. Lee suggested the idea in a speech in New York on Monday, envisioning a one-shot deal to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees and international assistance. The proposal met with a cool response from Washington.
At a regular press briefing on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "I think it's really not for me to comment on the particulars, because it's -- this is his policy. These were his remarks." Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell, who attended a foreign ministers meeting between South Korea and the U.S. on Tuesday morning, in a press briefing later said he was not aware of the president's comments. The response gives the impression that no prior discussion about the proposal had taken place.
But Seoul paints a different picture. The Foreign Ministry said Wi Sung-lac, the South's chief nuclear negotiator, had explained the concept of the grand bargain to the acting U.S. ambassador last Thursday and that the U.S. government had responded favorably. The ministry said Campbell had probably not been briefed since he was in Japan when Wi explained the concept to the embassy.
Kim Sung-hwan, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, told reporters in New York, "The grand bargain does not differ significantly from the package deal" mentioned by Campbell. "The reason why we insisted on the new terminology was because the concept of a package carries strong connotations of support."
Kim said the concept was raised for the first time while preparations were underway for the South Korea-U.S. summit in June and officially proposed now. "There was a period of secret negotiations, so there may have been a certain degree of apprehension" by U.S. officials, he said.
Whether that is true or not, the government is facing criticism for failing to properly inform the U.S. of Lee's proposal. One diplomatic source said, "I think the problem stems from a failure to clearly explain the 'grand bargain' terminology in conveying Lee's position to Washington that a comprehensive solution is necessary, rather than the previous step-by-step negotiation process."
Some experts say differences between South Korea and the U.S. may have surfaced in the process of fine-tuning differences, especially during specific discussions about a solution to the nuclear impasse.
Since the North Korean nuclear problem started in 1993, there have been several incidents where minor differences between Seoul and Washington unintentionally triggered controversy. This is why experts believe this incident should be treated as an opportunity to deepen cooperation between the allies.
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