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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 17)

All Headlines 06:55 July 17, 2015

Anthrax doubts
Honesty is best policy for US to keep alliance strong

Officials of Korea and the United States Wednesday renewed their determination to find ways of preventing a recurrence of the delivery of lethal samples of anthrax to Osan Air Base, an hour's drive south of Seoul.

Wednesday's meeting followed the formation Sunday of the Joint Working Group, led by major generals, one from each side, and composed of experts from related agencies which will conduct an on-site inspection this month.

These events came after U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) revealed on May 28 the mistaken delivery from a military lab in Utah in April. Two days later, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter expressed his regret over the incident.

So far, the allies have made a good start in handling the aftermath of this horrific mistake, which apparently and fortunately caused no casualties. But they still have more than a few challenges ahead, considering the many aspects of this mistake.

First and foremost among them is an incredible fact that the samples were moved through FedEx, a U.S. package delivery service. When the U.S. discloses the results of its investigation, a clearer picture is expected to emerge and provide directions on how to fix the flaws, human or systemic.

But more importantly, the Korean government was kept in the dark about the transfer of this hazardous material into its country.

History shows this occurrence can be taken by the Korean public as an example of U.S. unilateralism, and there is a remote chance it might turn into a severe test of the two countries' alliance, like what happened following the deaths of two girls crushed by a U.S. armored vehicle during training in Yangju, north of Seoul, in 2002.

Regarding the so-called Yangju Highway Incident, not just the U.S. but also the Korean government at that time was responsible for failing to foresee the potential backlash evidenced by months of candlelight protests. Then U.S. President Bill Clinton apologized, albeit belatedly.

Now, the alliance has by most accounts matured so much since then. But for the allies, it is better to err on the side of caution.

For that, the U.S. should come clean and keep the host country informed at all times when it brings in hazardous materials. Korea gives USFK the privilege of customs clearance exemptions for mail and parcels, because they are believed to help its operations. It is only natural that the accumulation of cases of abuse, by mistake or intentionally, will be grounds for revocation.

How to ensure a transparent process, whether through a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) or other means, should be left to the best intention of the negotiators.

We acknowledge that living next door is the wackiest dictator, who reportedly ordered the testing of anthrax on his own people.

We also agree that the mistaken delivery took place as part of U.S. Operation Jupiter aimed at boosting bio-surveillance against North Korea, which has successfully weaponized a variety of bacteria.

We suggest that any transfers of hazardous materials be conducted only when extremely necessary and under the safest possible circumstance, and, when they are moved, the two sides be fully consulted.

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