August 17, 2017 13:04
The U.S. State Department was anxious Wednesday to avoid any further impression of chaos in the Trump administration after President Moon Jae-in warned hawkish U.S. officials that Washington cannot go over Seoul's head in taking military action against North Korea.
Asked for a comment on Moon's warning, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, "That's a Department of Defense issue so I'm going to stay away from that." Nauert added, "We have a good relationship, as you know, with [South Korea]. We have constant, ongoing conversations with that government."
She refused to be drawn by repeated questioning. "I'm not going to get into that. Okay? I'm not a part of that conversation that the U.S. military may be having with South Korea on that part. But they are a valuable ally of ours, as you well know, and we defend our allies."
Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also told Voice of America in an interview to ask the Pentagon about Moon's remarks.
Speaking at a ceremony Tuesday marking the 72nd anniversary of liberation from Japanese occupation, Moon said, "Without the consent of [South Korea], no country can determine to take military action."
The State Department is having a tougher time than ever coordinating diplomacy amid U.S. President Donald Trump's scattergun tweets and a disintegrating White House, and clearly wants to downplay any sense of discord in the alliance.
One diplomatic source in Washington said, "We need to avert a war, and there must be no disagreements between the U.S. and South Korea. The two sides need to reach an agreement before taking military action, but the U.S. seems surprised by Moon's comments."
The Wall Street Journal said Moon's comments should be taken as a warning but added that the U.S. has no legal obligation to get South Korea's permission for military action in the event of a threat.
The U.S. is not necessarily obliged to get OK from South Korea for a preventative strike, but experts say that it would be difficult for the U.S. to unilaterally do so because it could lead to a war and cause massive South Korean casualties. Plus the evacuation of 200,000 U.S. citizens in South Korea in an emergency would require cooperation from the South Korean government.
Meanwhile, China welcomed Moon's remarks. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing "always called for a peaceful form of resolution" to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
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