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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 24)

Diplomacy 06:59 June 24, 2020

'Diplomatic violation'
Bolton's scathing disclosures distort facts

Excerpts from John Bolton's memoir on his nearly two years as national security adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump are creating small waves in Korea. The memoir talks at length about the two summits and impromptu meeting in Panmunjeom between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The "undiplomatic disclosure" puts the future of the denuclearization talks and involved parties including South Korea on discomforting footing.

In the memoir, "The Room Where It Happened," the hawkish Bolton described the U.S.-North Korea summit held in 2018 in Singapore as an idea pushed by South Korea and almost accepted on the spur of the moment by the U.S. president. Of his former boss, Bolton said Trump was not prepared for the Singapore summit but expected "great theater."

There is a strong amount of criticism toward the Moon Jae-in administration's strong "driver-role" approach in mediating the U.S.-North Korea summits. "This whole diplomatic fandango was South Korea's creation, relating more to its unification agenda than serious strategy on Kim's part or ours." He added that the "South's understanding of our terms to denuclearize North Korea bore no relationship to fundamental U.S. national interest."

It is hard to fully determine the veracity of the claims in the memoir. We will have to wait some time for the declassification of materials to cross-check with government documents. Needless to say, Bolton's disclosures are a violation of diplomatic practice. Cheong Wa Dae called it a violation of "diplomatic principles."

That is why National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said Monday that Bolton expressed his "views" related to the consultations between the leaders of South Korea, the United States and North Korea, in a change from its initial stance of keeping silent on Bolton's memoir. "It doesn't reflect the exact facts. Much of it distorts the facts." Chung urged the United States to take relevant measures to prevent future disclosures.

The novelty of some of the claims should not tempt people to turn away from the past two years of peace talks and denuclearization. The memoir does offer glimpses into a rift, and a lack of cohesion regarding North Korea within the Trump administration. Albeit written more like a sketch story, there is a sense of the political calculations running through North Korea, Japan and China in the memoir. With tensions high between the two Koreas again with North Korea frustrated over Seoul's inability to lift U.S.-led international sanctions, these are aspects that Seoul could revisit to break out of the inter-Korean tensions.
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