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f_0022602_18594 - Good News and Bad News from the Korean...

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Spring 2011 The Ambassadors REVIEW 20 Good News and Bad News from the Korean Peninsula Donald P. Gregg Chairman Emeritus, The Korea Society United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, 1989-1993 he good news out of the Koreas is that President Barack Obama, as no other president before him, has recognized that South Korea is America’s most reliable and active ally in Asia. The President mentioned South Korea in his January 25 State of the Union speech far more than any other country, praising its teachers, its technical prowess, its growing economic status, and urging quick ratification of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement. If any further proof of Seoul’s current status was needed, David Sanger in The New York Times of February 20, 2011, said flatly, “South Korea…is now Washington’s favorite ally in Asia.” This is a strongly positive and overdue development, and brings South Korea closer to becoming what I have long hoped for, a status as an American ally in Asia equivalent to the United Kingdom’s status as an American ally in Europe. A close allied relationship, however, is no guarantee of agreement on all issues by the two nations concerned. Think of the crisis of 1956, when President Eisenhower refused to support an Anglo-French plan to seize the Suez Canal after it had been nationalized by Egypt. The Anglo-American alliance survived this incident, and went on to become stronger than ever. South Korea is a strong, and sometimes bumptious democracy, which like the United States, elects chief executives of widely differing persuasions, depending on paramount political issues pertaining at the time of presidential elections. This is a sign of the healthy and free-swinging democratic process that exists in both countries. At the same time, it has caused coordination problems and led to misunderstandings. A notable exam- ple was the first official meeting between former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush, held in early 2001, that signaled an end to the Clinton policy of reconciliation toward North Korea. This pattern has been especially difficult for North Korea to adjust to, given the fact that it has been ruled by one family since its creation at the end of World War II, and thus finds it hard to fathom how democracies can function effectively when they elect presidents who appear to have very little in common with their predecessors. Such was the case when George W. Bush replaced Bill Clinton. Clinton had been invited by North Korea to visit Pyongyang in the fall of 2000, and clearly wanted to go, but the time ran out on his presidency. The North Koreans hoped for a continuation of friendly relations with the Bush administration, but this did not happen. Direct contact was suspended between
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