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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Feb. 1)

All Headlines 06:54 February 01, 2017

Hwang-Trump talks
Phone conversation reassures strong bilateral alliance

Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and U.S. President Donald Trump talked on the phone for the first time Sunday and reaffirmed the importance of the alliance between the two countries.

In a statement, the White House said that President Trump reiterated an "ironclad commitment" to defend South Korea. They also agreed to take steps to strengthen joint defense capabilities to defend against the North Korean threat. Trump ended the conversation by wishing Koreans a prosperous Lunar New Year.

The phone call came at a time of high anxiety among Koreans about the future of Korea-U.S. relations with the Trump White House. Such concerns are not unfounded, given his negative views about his country's security commitments overseas and his former remarks about Korea paying "peanuts" for U.S. troops stationed here while he was campaigning. He has also criticized the Korea-U.S. FTA as a "job-killing deal."

Although the phone conversation was reassuring on the close Korea-U.S. alliance, there are lingering concerns here regarding how the two countries will work through complex bilateral issues in the coming months.

The Trump-Hwang phone talks seemed cursory and lacked urgency or content in comparison to the phone conversation between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Trump-Abe call was held earlier and the two leaders concluded the conversation by setting a date for a bilateral summit, with Abe accepting an invitation from Washington. Abe, who was the first head of state to meet Trump after his stunning election victory, will be meeting the new U.S. President on Feb. 10 The two leaders are expected to consult on ways to cooperate on the North Korean threat, according to a statement by the Japanese foreign ministry.

Since President Park Geun-hye is undergoing impeachment procedures, she is unable to carry out her proper diplomatic function. It is very unfortunate that political circumstances have hampered Korea's diplomatic capacity amid huge changes in the U.S. administration. A major diplomatic event such as a bilateral summit is likely to be held off until the domestic situation is settled.

Hwang reportedly invited Trump to visit Korea, but the White House did not mention the invitation in its statement about the phone talks. In contrast, the White House posted in a Twitter message that POTUS had invited Abe to Washington and announced the date of their upcoming meeting.

Despite domestic political circumstances and the limitations of an acting president, Korea-U.S. relations should move forward based on mutual trust and an all-weather friendship. The leaders of the two countries should meet soon to get to know each other better. Washington should also swiftly name a successor to former U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert.

Trump was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20 with an inaugural address giving a poignant "America-first" message. Korea's foreign ministry should prepare meticulous strategies to deal with a Trump's America, one that will pursue its own interests at the risk of possibly hurting others.
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