S. Korea, US are going to differ on Middle Eastern issues: FM

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha addresses tensions between the US and Iran during a plenary session of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee on Jan. 9. (Kim Gyoung-ho, staff photographer). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Jan 11, 2020, Hankyoreh. Commenting on the US’ request for South Korea to deploy troops to the Strait of Hormuz, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha said on Jan. 9 that “the positions of the US and South Korea are not necessarily going to coincide,” Hankyoreh reported.

“We are giving priority consideration to the safety of South Koreans,” she added.

Appearing at a plenary session of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee that day, Kang was asked by Bareunmirae Party Lawmaker Park Joo-sun how Seoul would respond to a forceful request from Washington for the deployment of troops.

“We are not going to share the same analysis of the political situation in the Middle East. We have maintained an economic relationship with Iran for a long time and have been continually involved in humanitarian assistance and education [there],” Kang replied.

The Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee held an emergency plenary session to examine the Middle East amid rising military tensions between the US and Iran. The issue of troop deployment to the Strait of Hormuz was a major topic of discussion at the session.

In response to remarks at a Dec. 12 National Security Council standing committee meeting about Seoul “considering contributing to the international effort for security in the area around the Strait of Hormuz,” ruling and opposition party lawmakers peppered Kang with questions about whether the recent position was a reversal from what previously amounted to a decision in favor of deployment.

“That was not a definitive decision,” she replied.

“Since last year, the US has been consistently requesting international participation — including ours — for the sake of security. It is still under examination,” she explained.

Commenting on the relocation of a portion of the Cheonghae Anti-Piracy Unit from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Hormuz, Kang said, “We are examining how we might make use of our assets, if not in that region then in the vicinity.” When asked whether National Assembly ratification of the deployment would be needed to relocate the unit, she said, “We will need to conduct a legal examination depending on the specific operation duties.”

Kang was also questioned about current issues including North Korea-US dialogue and negotiations with the US on the sharing of defense costs. When asked by Democratic Party Lawmaker Park Jeung about the prospects for North Korea-US dialogue, Kang said, “We’re predicting that the current situation of dialogue not taking place may last a bit longer.”

“Our aim is to achieve progress with denuclearization through the resumption of North Korea-US dialogue,” she stressed.

Kang also said she was “coordinating a meeting with US Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo next week.
“I think we can make more precise predictions once we’ve shared opinions on the situation,” she said. The bilateral foreign ministers’ meeting is to take place in San Francisco on Jan. 14, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced.

Responding to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal that South Korea had proposed a share of defense costs that was 4-8% higher than last year’s, Lee Sung-ho, MOFA deputy representative for the defense cost-sharing talks with the US, said, “It is difficult to speak about precise figures.”

“It is true that we proposed a small increase,” Lee said.

By Kim So-youn, staff reporter

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