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Cablegate: Dasd Schiffer: Korean National Assembly Members

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #0202/01 0410029
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P 100029Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7019
INFO RUCNKOR/KOREA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000202

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/23/2029
TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR ETRD KS KN
SUBJECT: DASD SCHIFFER: KOREAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEMBERS
PITCH "SUNSHINE POLICY", OPCON DELAY, AND ACTION ON FTA

Classified By: POL M/C James L. Wayman. Reasons 1.4 (b), (d).

1.(C) Summary: In separate meetings with DASD Michael Schiffer on January 26 and 27, ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and opposition Democratic Party (DP) National Assembly Members affirmed the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance and discussed North Korea, wartime OPCON transition, and the KORUS FTA. The DP Members were critical of what they described as the USG's hard-line policy toward North Korea and urged engagement in the spirit of former President Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy". GNP and DP Members supported delaying OPCON transition, while one DP Member advised that, if not delayed, it must be handled cautiously. GNP Members expressed their frustration at what they described as a lack of good will on the part of the USG in not acting to ratify the KORUS FTA. End Summary.

2.(C) DASD Schiffer hosted DP National Assembly Members Park Jie-won, Park Sun-sook, and Seo Jong-pyo for dinner on January 26. Park Jie-won, currently Chairman of the DP's Policy Committee, was former President Kim Dae-Jung's chief of staff and seckret emissary to North Korea for arranging the 2000 summit in Pyongyang between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il. Park Sun-sook was Kim Dae-jung's press secretary. Seo Jong-pyo is a first-term National Assembly Member and retired General. DASD Schiffer hosted GNP Memebers Hwang Jin-ha and Cho Yoon-sun on January 27. Hwang Jin-ha, a retired Lieutenant General, is a second-term National Assembly Member and serves on the Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Unification Committee. Cho Yoon-sun is a first-term National Assembly Member, who, before entering politics, was Chief Legal Officer for Citibank Korea.

North Korea -----------

3.(C) Park Jie-won, though pessimistic that North Korea would ever abandon its nuclear weapons, said the U.S. should normalize relations, discuss a peace agreement, and provide energy assistance to reestablish trust with the North. He said North Korea tested nuclear weapons and missiles because, feeling ignored and "lonely" in the early days of the Obama administration, it was trying to draw America's attention. Moreover, because, according to Park, the U.S. seemed to be currently preoccupied with fighting terrorism and relief efforts in Haiti, the North could be preparing a new round of provocative acts. The possibility of armed conflict was real, Park said, and the North's call for peace regime talks was not mere rhetoric. The potential for dialogue existed, but the choice was not North Korea's; it was up to the U.S. and the other Six Party Talks members to woo North Korea back to negotiation, said Park. Nevertheless, Park said, "I don't think they will abandon nukes in the final stage. The most they will do is seal the facilities. Then they will want to verify U.S. nuclear capability in the ROK. It is unreasonable."

4.(C) DASD Schiffer, recounting the history of U.S. efforts to engage North Korea, including President Obama,s offer of an outstretched hand in his inaugural address, told Park Jie-won it would be "absurd" to attribute the development of Kim Jong-il's nuclear program to North Korea being "lonely". The choice, DASD Schiffer said, was North Korea's to make: to walk through the open door of engagement or not. In exchange for verifiably abandoning its nuclear weapons, North Korea would find the U.S. willing to normalize relations, negotiate a peace agreement, and provide aid. DASD Schiffer noted that action for action worked both ways: negative DPRK actions, such as missile launches and nuclear tests, resulted in negative U.S. actions, such as sanctions. He asked what more the U.S. could do to induce North Korea to dialogue, especially given our attempts to engage North Korea had resulted in North Korean provocations.

5.(C) Seo Jong-pyo, representing the conservative wing of the DP, said that North Korea, from the perspective of former President Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy", was South Korea's brother. But from a security perspective, the retired general said North Korea was the enemy. The strong U.S.-ROK Alliance made ROK engagement with the North possible during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, but the North's 2006 nuclear test was a turning point that revealed the North's true intentions. "The nuclear issue," Seo said, "can only be resolved if the regime collapses." Park Jie-won, who had invited Seo to the dinner, laughed, "He is very conservative."

6.(C) Park Jie-won said time was of the essence to strike a deal with Kim Jong-il before he died, because nobody else had the decision making authority to make a deal stick, and before the North succeeded in miniaturizing its nuclear weapons. Park emphasized that the &Sunshine Policy8 was the least expensive method to resolve the nuclear issue with North Korea. DASD Schiffer noted that rewarding bad behavior set up bad incentives and created a moral hazard, which would not lead to a successful resolution. The DP, Park added, would welcome and support a summit between Lee Myung-bak and Kim Jong-il. Park worried about instability that might result from the North Korean government's inability to fulfill expectations it had raised by promising economic improvements by 2012. He said the currency revaluation was an example of the government's attempt to regain control of the economy. The pressure on Kim Jong-il to produce results was immense, he speculated, making it more likely that his health would deteriorate further.

7.(C) Park Jie-won, based on recent conversations he had with Chinese government officials, said China did not take the sanctions against North Korea seriously. China's position, he said, was that the South and North should work out their differences like two brothers but that President Lee was blocking progress. China was worried that if the North's nuclear weapons program was not halted, the ROK, Japan, and maybe even Taiwan would also seek nuclear weapons. The only solution in China's view, according to Park, was for the U.S. to engage in dialogue with the North, lift sanctions, give the North a security guarantee, and provide aid. Park agreed, though, that North Korea was making the &biggest mistake in a history of mistakes8 by continuing its provocative actions and rhetoric. He lamented that North Korea was &holding the threat of war8 as leverage over Seoul.

8.(C) GNP Member Hwang Jin-ha said planning for contingencies in the North was critical because Kim Jong-il's poor health and the destabilizing effects of the sanctions increased the likelihood of contingency situations. Hwang said it was important to find a way to signal to China and Russia what U.S. and ROK expectations were "to educate them on how we expect to see things unfold."

OPCON -----

9.(C) GNP and DP members were nearly unanimous that the planned transition of wartime operational control (OPCON) to the ROK in 2012 should be delayed. Only DP Rep. Park Sun-sook said it should proceed, but added that the matter called for careful handling lest it spark a domestic political crisis in the ROK or, worse, embolden the DPRK to take advantage of what it might see as an opening. The Korean public, they all said, believed OPCON transition meant the U.S. commitment to the ROK's defense was decreasing. Moreover, 2012 would be a potentially volatile year with presidential and National Assembly elections in the ROK, a presidential election in the U.S., a Party Congress and new President in China, and the (likely disappointing) culmination of North Korea's effort to become a "strong and prosperous nation".

10.(C) Hwang Jin-ha, reflecting a broad consensus in the ruling GNP, argued strongly for delaying the planned transition of wartime OPCON to the ROK in 2012. Hwang said the agreement between former President's Bush and Roh to transition OPCON was "like a bad marriage" with each side hiding its true intentions from the other. The U.S. side, according to Hwang, saw that it had an opportunity for "strategic flexibility" while for Roh it was an ill-guided matter of reclaiming Korea's sovereignty. It was clear, in hindsight he said, that Roh's judgment on security matters was deeply flawed because he did not see North Korea as a threat; he claimed that this flaw remained the basis of the OPCON transition agreement. Hwang said in light of the current nuclear security threat in North Korea, taking any unreciprocated act to weaken -- as Hwang saw it -- Korea's security posture would be a mistake.

11.(C) OSD Senior Country Director for Korea Brian Arakelian told Hwang that the process of preparing for OPCON transition had strengthened U.S.-ROK combined defenses and the bilateral assessment of the strategic environment because it had prompted a necessary reevaluation of contingency plans and the desired bilateral assumptions and end-states for the peninsula inherent in those plans. With or without OPCON transition, Arakelian said, the ROK would play a lead role in the event of conflict -- in a manner not accounted for in current plans and command relationships. Preparation for OPCON transition, therefore, had resulted in bilateral plans and alliance structures and arrangements &catching up8 to the reality of today,s security environment -- ensuring the U.S. and ROK were better prepared )- rather than the claim by many that the transition was neglecting consideration of that strategic environment. Representative Cho replied that while valid points, such arguments were difficult to convey to the ROK public. Arakelian further asserted that it was perplexing how the ROK public could be persuaded to support ROK forces deploying to Afghanistan and elsewhere globally, and yet not be convinced of the necessity of the ROK,s lead role in its own defense, or of viewing the ROK,s global commitments in the context of impacts on the combined defense (alluding to the ROK public,s apprehension with U.S. strategic flexibility).

12.(C) DP Members Park Jie-won and Seo Jong-pyo said OPCON transition should be delayed. Seo's opinion was based on his assessment that OPCON transition would harm the ROK's security posture. Park Jie-won, implicitly criticizing the Roh administration, said the ROK's agreement to OPCON transition during the Roh Administration was based on the assumption of a small group of Koreans that it would be better for USFK to leave Korea. That assumption, he said, does not accurately reflect Korean opinion. Rep. Park Sun-sook said that if OPCON transition did not mean that USFK would be "hands off" in a war on the peninsula, then it should proceed as planned, but very quietly and without publicity.

FTA ---

13.(C) GNP Rep. Hwang Jin-ha was critical of the U.S. delay in ratifying the KORUS FTA. Hwang said ratification of the FTA was strategically important because it would send a signal to the region that the U.S.-ROK alliance was strong. GNP Rep. Cho Yoon-sun said that the lack of action in ratifying the FTA would cast doubt on U.S. commitments beyond the economic sphere.

14.(C) DASD Schiffer told Hwang and Cho that while he understood and appreciated the strategic significance of the FTA, the U.S.-ROK Alliance was more than the FTA and that we should not make the decision to ratify the FTA a proxy for the entire future of the alliance. There were other ways, he said, to also signal the strength of the relationship.

15.(U) DASD Schiffer cleared this message. STEPHENS.

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