Moon Made a Big Mistake Trying to Play Mediator

  • By Roh Suk-jo from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    January 16, 2020 13:27

    Roh Suk-jo

    The Sultanate of Oman on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula has just lost its leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Oman is a far less significant and powerful county in the Middle East than Saudi Arabia for example, and its streets are not lined with gleaming towers like Dubai.

    Yet world leaders lined up to pay their last respects to the sultan, who died last Friday. They included Prince Charles and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who arrived in Muscat early Sunday morning. President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi of Yemen, who is fighting a civil war against pro-Iran Houthi rebels, as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif set aside their differences briefly to pay their last respects.

    The universal display of grief is testimony to Qaboos' diplomatic prowess. "Friend to all and enemy to none," was his motto -- perhaps willy-nilly given his geographic limitations, but even so he garnered respect for successfully playing the role of a silent mediator in the tumultuous Middle East. He played a key role in the success of the Iranian nuclear negotiations in 2015. Iran used to call the U.S. the "Great Satan," but the two countries were able to ink a nuclear deal because Qaboos and his diplomats calmly relayed the views of one side to the other. What is interesting is that Qaboos and his diplomats were nowhere to be seen when the U.S., Iran and Europe actually signed their nuclear treaty.

    President Moon Jae-in, on the other hand, who volunteered to play the role of mediator in North Korean denuclearization talks, is neither quiet nor modest. He is very prone to patting himself on the back even though he fumbled awfully in the role, habitually counts his chickens before they are hatched, and now has to bite his tongue when the North showers him with abuse. North Korea has slammed Moon as "brazen-face" and suffering from "delusions of grandeur," but he took it lying down. In the latest embarrassment, Cheong Wa Dae's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong told reporters after returning from Washington that it was South Korea that delivered Trump's birthday message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The North shot back the next day saying, "It is somehow presumptuous for South Korea to meddle in the personal relations" between Kim and Trump, and insisted there had been no intermediary.

    A mediator can do his job only if he earns the respect of the parties involved. Nobody will tell another person anything of importance if there is no respect. More importantly, South Korea has a direct interest in the denuclearization talks, and how can a pig possibly mediate in its own slaughter negotiations? The disaster that is unfolding now was only to be expected due to such dynamics.

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