February 12, 2015 12:52
The U.S. is leaning on President Park Geun-hye not to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of the Soviet Union's World War II victory in Moscow on May 9. Asked what the White House's response would be if Park attends the event, Deputy U.S. National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Monday that although it is up to individual leaders to decide, it is important to deliver a "unified voice" against Russia, which is stoking a civil war in Ukraine.
The U.S. is South Korea's staunchest ally. The two usually maintain a unified voice on major international issues, and Washington has been spearheading sanctions against Russia since last year. Still, it is diplomatically inappropriate for a U.S. official to comment publicly on whether the leader of a friendly nation should go somewhere or not.
Russia is enticing Park to the event with the prospect of a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the sidelines. Amid diplomatic isolation from the international community due to the Ukraine situation, Moscow invited Kim and he has apparently accepted.
Lawmakers on Tuesday called on Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se not to be swayed by U.S. pressure and use the Russian celebration as an opportunity for a meeting between Park and Kim. They were wrong. In his New Year's address, Kim hinted at a summit with Park provided joint South Korea-U.S. military drills are scrapped, but the regime has not shown any great enthusiasm for any form of dialogue. And there is no guarantee that Kim will even turn up in Moscow.
Even if he does go to Russia and meets Park there, what would be the significance of a brief handshake on the sidelines of the main event? Seoul stands to lose more if Park attends while Russia is being shunned by the international community.
China is also preparing for a major anniversary celebration of the end of World War II and is highly likely to invite Park. Attending the Chinese celebration could give the impression that participants are rallying against Japan for its World War II atrocities, but the event means different things to different countries. The government may have to establish a consistent standard when dealing with this issue if it wants to avoid diplomatic pratfalls.
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