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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea’s Blue House presidential office on Monday distanced itself from arguments made by a government special adviser that President Moon Jae-in was considering downsizing joint military exercises with the U.S.
Moon Chung-in, special adviser for unification, foreign and security affairs, told an audience at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. on Friday that the President had suggested that South Korea might consider scaling down joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea’s suspension of its nuclear and missile tests.
“We have contacted special adviser Moon, who is in the U.S. today,” a senior official at the presidential office, who wished to remain anonymous, told assembled reporters, amid growing criticism from the opposition. “We told him strictly that (his statement) would not be helpful for the future relations between South Korea and the U.S.”
The senior official also added there had been “no prior consultation” with the President over the advisor’s visit to the U.S., but that he had met with the chief of the Blue House’s National Security Office (NSO), Chung Eui-yong, before his trip.
Moon reportedly told Chung what he was planning to say, but the NSO chief believed he would be sharing it as a personal view, not that of the President.
“He (Moon Jae-in) has proposed two things,” Moon said on Friday. “One, if North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities, then we may consult with the United States to (on) scaling down ROK-U.S. joint exercises and training.”
“I think what he has in mind is, you know, we may scale down deployment of American strategic weapons over the Korean Peninsula.”
But the presidential office didn’t deny it was considering the idea, saying there were “various ideas to make a new development and overcome” the current impasse in inter-Korean relations.
“The idea is one of them,” the senior official said. “These are the matters that need to be decided through close consultation between South Korea and the U.S. and there is no possibility to realize it even if one person can mention it.”
The special adviser also revealed another proposal by President Moon.
“Another one is linking North Korea’s denuclearization to the creation of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “It is a much more complicated one. It could be much more complicated than the Iranian deal.”
Moon Chung-in also said the environmental impact assessment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery should be carried out over a “full seasonal cycle.”
“American forces can’t be above South Korean law,” Moon said at the event. “Our President can’t be above the South Korean law. And if Moon Jae-in violates the law, he can be subject to the around round of the impeachment. Nobody, even God, you know, can’t bypass that rule.”
The special adviser’s comments, which come ahead of a meeting between Presidents Moon and Trump at the end of the month, have been condemned by the South Korean opposition, despite his insistence that his comments were made as a scholar and not in his capacity as a special advisor.
The U.S.-South Korea summit will take place in Washington DC on June 29 and 30, with the two Presidents set to discuss measures to enhance the ROK-U.S. alliance, as well as joint efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear program and achieve peace on the peninsula, according to a Blue House spokesperson on June 13.
South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) said on Monday that the South and the U.S. planned to stage the annual joint military drill Ulchi-Freedom Guardian in August as planned.
“As far as I know, the statement wasn’t consulted or mediated in advance with the government,” Moon Sang-gyun, an MND spokesperson, told media during a regular news briefing.
At a closed-door news conference with South Korean reporters in Washington, Moon spoke frankly, saying the U.S. – Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance was “broken” if ongoing issues with the deployment of THAAD could not be discussed.
He also said that the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson in late-April caused “unnecessary tensions” on the Korean peninsula.
“I am disappointed in the U.S. side,” he said. “No one acknowledges the wrongdoing of the U.S. government. It’s all the North Korea’s responsibility for causing the current situation…”
The special advisor also dismissed comments made by the President on the occasion of 17th anniversary of the June 15th South-North Joint Declaration, in which he said the government would be willing to open up a dialogue with the North “without conditions”, but only if the DPRK ceases its missile and nuclear tests.
“We should hold talks when North Korea doesn’t make provocations,” the special adviser said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Crawford Forum’s Flickr