Is There Really No Rift Between Seoul and Washington?

      October 09, 2009 12:43

      Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell is expected to visit Japan and China next week for advance talks about the agenda for U.S. President Barack Obama's first visit to Asia from Nov. 12 to 19. Obama visits Japan on Nov. 12 and 13, attend the APEC Summit in Singapore and then visit China and South Korea, but Campbell will not be stopping in Seoul.

      Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan on Thursday said the U.S. is holding "a sufficient amount of talks" with Korea about the summit "through various diplomatic channels." Yu added Campbell "may be busy."

      In a speech in New York last month, President Lee Myung-bak suggested offering North Korea a "grand bargain" to get it to scrap its nuclear program, a one-shot deal involving security guarantees and international assistance. Campbell later said he was not aware of the president's comments, and the U.S. media quoted American government officials as saying the suggestion "goes too far." In a press conference after returning to Seoul, Lee appeared to publicly reproach Campbell, saying, "So what if Mr. so-and-so says he is not aware of it."

      The U.S. point man for East Asian and Pacific affairs does not religiously visit Korea, Japan and China when he flies to the region. Campbell, who was appointed in June, went only to South Korea and Japan in July and only to Japan between Sept. 17 and 19 to meet with the officials of the new administration. But it is strange that he is leaving out South Korea while preparing the U.S. president's agenda just one month before the visit. There is speculation that Campbell is avoiding Seoul to prevent any dispute over the "grand bargain" between Seoul and Washington becoming an issue again.

      Seoul and Washington say there is no difference over their solutions to the North Korean nuclear issue. But looking at the recent series of events, it is difficult to take their word for it.

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