President Moon Jae-in talks about his summit with Donald Trump during a meeting with South Korean foreign correspondents at the Blair House (the White House guest house)
President Moon Jae-in said on July 1 that US President Donald Trump’s remarks treating renegotiation of the South Korea-US FTA (KORUS FTA) as a foregone conclusion were “outside of what was agreed upon.”
Moon‘s remarks came in response to a question at a talk with South Korean correspondents in Washington at Blair House (the White House guest house) ahead of his return to South Korea the same day. In the question, a reporter asked Moon what conversation had taken place between the leaders over the FTA issue, noting that Trump had said the renegotiations were starting while the Blue House was claiming no agreement on the issue.
“Just look at the Joint Statement. Anything else is outside of what was agreed upon,” Moon said in response.
“I don’t know about the circumstances, but with the joint statement text presented to reporters, we were each saying what we wanted to say [during the joint press conference],” he added.
“I knew what the joint statement said and focused on that. Perhaps President Trump was talking about something that hadn‘t been agreed upon,” he continued.
Moon also noted that Trump and others “mentioned during the summit about how the US was suffering a severe trade deficit and specifically talked about cars and steel - specifically that Chinese steel was coming into the US by way of South Korea.”
“In response, we explained that the KORUS FTA is functioning in a mutually beneficial way, which the US Commerce Department’s own analytical data can attest to,” he added.
Moon went on to observe that “world trade has dropped 12% since the KORUS FTA took effect, while South Korea-US trade has increased by 12%.”
“The US may be experiencing a deficit in products, but we‘re [experiencing a deficit] in services, and there’s a lot of investment in the US, so on the whole there‘s a balance,” he said.
Moon also provided some insights into the process of the summit.
“Things finished with a counterproposal to set up a working-level task force to look into, analyze, and assess the effects of the FTA if there is anything that needs to be amended or if they are talking about non-tariff barriers,” he said.
“President Trump spoke about renegotiation without an agreement - perhaps he could not be satisfied with that agreement alone. It was outside of what was agreed upon,” Moon stressed.
Regarding the specific preconditions for dialogue with Pyongyang, Moon said, “We determined it would be wise not to specify anything at the current stage.”
“For example, a definite pledge from North Korea not to engage in additional provocations could be one precondition, and the release of American [detainees] could also be one, but it’s better not to specify anything at the current stage,” he continued.
“President Trump [suggested] that with the situation in flux, we have to make decisions by our feel for things. [He indicated] South Korea might have a better sense, being close by, and seemed to trust more in us,” he said.
Moon also addressed the joint statement’s inclusion of terms regarding advancement of trilateral security cooperation with Japan, which China might perceive as part of a strategy to hem it in.
“With North Korea continuing to carry out nuclear and missile provocations, I think we have no choice but to cooperate, at the very least to respond to the North Korean nuclear issue,” he said.
“I think China will understand that,” he added.
“I view cooperation with Japan for the sake of the North Korean nuclear issue as something unavoidable.”
Moon went on to say South Korea’s “stature has changed.”
“Perhaps he was deeply impressed by the candlelight revolution, but [Trump] was tremendously respectful in terms of the peaceful change in administrations and [my] being the President who came to office through that,” he said.
“I get the sense that the world is being respectful toward us now, and we’re the ones who are looking down on ourselves,” he added.
“They seemed to take it completely for granted that we would be proposing to take the initiative in inter-Korean dialogue. We’re the ones who were internally worried about whether our opinions would differ from the US’s,” he said.
On this relationship with Trump, Moon said, “We saw eye to eye more than I expected, and he was very respectful and kind.”
“Speaking before the US media, President Trump used the terms ‘great chemistry’ and ‘very very, very good,’” he added.
Moon also recounted telling Trump before their handshake that the South Korean audience would be “very interested” in it.
“I don’t know how to do the handshake. They talked about how you have to do this if you’re doing the handshake this way and that if you’re doing the handshake that way, and it makes you more cautious about shaking hands,” Moon quoted Trump as saying.
By Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent
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