Lost in Translation

Bush just couldn’t catch a break at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

After thanking Prime Minister John Howard “for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit,” Bush went on to note Howard’s visit last year to the “Austrian troops” stationed in Iraq before trying to take the wrong off-stage exit.

But any embarrasment those slip-ups might have caused was quickly forgotten during a photo op with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who forced Bush into a tight spot with the following display of blunt diplomacy:

The tense moments with Roh came as the leaders each made statements to reporters after their meeting. Roh concluded his by questioning why Bush hadn’t mention the issue of the war’s end.

“I might be wrong. I think I did not hear President Bush mention a declaration to end the Korean War just now,” Roh said through an interpreter. “Did you say so, President Bush?”

“It’s up to Kim Jong Il,” Bush said.

Roh pressed on. “If you could be a little bit clearer,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the U.S. delegation and a look of annoyance from Bush.

“I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President. We look forward to the day when we can end the Korean War. That will happen when Kim Jong Il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons.”

The White House acted quickly to downplay the awkward exchange. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, said “there was clearly something lost in translation during the photo op.”

Yeah, like “tact.” But under the circumstances of the impromptu interrogation, I think Bush handled himself like a stateman should, keeping his cool even while one of his poker buddies kept trying to peek over his shoulder at his hand, and maybe even redeeming himself on a matter of substance from the earlier inconsequential gaffes.

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2 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Clearly, the Bush administration is not satisfying the interests of its South Korean ally. The South Korean’s must feel ignored to make such a public issue out of a disagreement.

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  2. ‘Tis true, Hellmut.

    This is from a recent issue of the Korean Foreign Ministry’s journal, Institute of Foreign Affairs & National Security Review:

    “Some US pronouncements touch on the need to strengthen alliances to fight terrorism and to work with ‘other main centers of global power.’ But there is a global impression…that [the US] is focused more on a unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorists and confronting WMD-seeking states and entities…. The perceived US shift toward acting on its own has undermined the strength of some alliances…. In South Korea, that perception has added to the ever-present fear that Washington will sacrifice Seoul’s interests for its own…. It is necessary to balance mutual expectations and to prepare for the future.”

    And in fact, when President Roh took office in 2003, he vowed that “I will see to it that the ROK-US alliance matures into a more reciprocal and euitable relationship.” So while Roh’s directness at the press conference seems uncharacteristic, it fits into the larger scheme of things.

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