Victor Cha spanks South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun for a breach in etiquette at APEC.
Multilateral meetings like APEC and the UN General Assembly afford leaders the opportunity to hold several meetings on the side with key allies and partners. These ?bilats? are often the object of intense internal jockeying within the U.S. government as the president has only limited time and every regional affairs office in the NSC or State Department wants the president to meet with their leaders. South Korea usually ranks fairly highly because it is a stalwart ally, with troops in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, and because there are always pending issues to discuss, including North Korea and the six-party talks.
After these bilats, no one, including designated public spokespersons for the two leaders, should discuss what is said between the two leaders in these private meetings. Discussions about longer-term strategy and diplomacy regarding the six-party talks or the upcoming inter-Korean summit need to be shared quietly between the two heads of state. A public message that characterizes the meeting is usually then carefully coordinated between the two sides. As a columnist, Lee Ha-won, correctly noted in these pages on Sept. 10, this is why summits are often framed as ?successes.?
The problem at Sydney is that Roh was unable to maintain this distinction between public messages and private discussions. Roh probably did press Bush in their private meeting to offer the prospect of a peace treaty to Kim Jong-il. I would not be surprised if Roh did not also ask Bush for a letter or even a verbal message that he could convey to Kim.
Unfortunately, Roh does not seem able to contemplate displaying the same brashness with Kim Jong-il. After all, Roh is younger than the Dear Leader.