The U.S.-R.O.K. Relationship: A Strong Foundation, A Bright Future
At a December 15 briefing co-hosted by Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program and the Asia Society's Washington Center, Ambassador Christopher Hill, back in Washington for the first time since taking up his duties as U.S. ambassador in Seoul in August 2004, offered his views on U.S.-Korea relations and recent developments on the Korean peninsula.
Hill noted that while the U.S.-Korea relationship faces many challenges, it is essentially a solid partnership. The United States is in the process of reducing the size of its forces in Korea from 37,000 to 25,000, and repositioning them away from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Such moves have aroused some Koreans to question the U.S. security commitment to Seoul and have contributed to anti-American demonstrations in South Korea. In addition, a new generation of South Koreans does not have memories of the Korean War and are inclined to be far more sympathetic to the North than are most Americans. Even so, Hill observed, many South Koreans deeply appreciate U.S.-Korea relations. Seoul supported the U.S. war in Iraq and has sent the third largest number of troops to join the U.S. military in that country.
Hill recognized that the United States and South Korea have slightly different strategies toward North Korea's nuclear program, as Seoul is more concerned about a sudden collapse of its northern neighbor. However, Washington and Seoul should ensure that they do not send conflicting signals to Pyongyang. Hill did not exclude the possibility of bilateral contacts between Washington and Pyongyang, but maintained that such contacts can occur only within the framework of six-party talks. He stated that the United States would never accept a North Korean regime with nuclear weapons and that Washington also cares deeply about Pyongyang's poor human rights record. Washington and Seoul should work together to promote change in North Korea and help integrate that country into the world community, Hill concluded.