Defense ministry confirms Roh’s plans to honor NLL

Posted on : 2013-10-09 13:26 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Evidence refutes conservatives’ claims that then-president Roh said he’d abandon the maritime border
 Gyeonggi Province.
Gyeonggi Province.

By Kim Su-heon, staff reporter

The Ministry of National Defense officially confirmed on Oct. 8 that former President Roh Moo-hyun approved principles of respecting and adhering to the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea and setting equal areas on either side as joint fishing zones as principles prior to defense minister talks in 2007.

This could undermine the claims of the ruling Saenuri Party (NFP) that Roh attempted to “abandon” the line demarcating the maritime boundaries of North and South Korea in the West (Yellow) Sea. And with the ministry proving that it was aware of the principles even as it refused previous requests from the opposition to verify them, it opens itself up to criticisms that it participated with the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in helping bolster the Saenuri Party’s charges about Roh’s alleged actions.

The Saenuri Party has consistently argued that Roh forfeited South Korea’s claims to the NLL at the 2007 inter-Korean summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The first charges came from lawmaker Chung Moon-hun in Oct. 2012, shortly before the presidential election. During the election, which was eventually won by Saenuri candidate Park Geun-hye, the party repeatedly demanded the release of transcripts from the summit.

The NIS, which was already under pressure for allegedly interfering with the presidential election by having employees post messages favoring Park on the internet, decided to illegally release the transcripts last June. When they turned up no reference to Roh abandoning the NLL, the Saenuri Party changed its tack and began saying that he had “as good as” forfeited it.

The party, now finding itself under fire over Park’s retreat on her basic pension pledge and other parts of her election platform, decided to rekindle the “NLL war” by releasing interim results from the prosecutors’ investigation saying that the transcripts were not in the National Archives, and that signs of deletion were found on Bongha e-Jiwon, the Roh administration’s electronic management system. Their demand was now for the release of audio recordings from the summit.

The Ministry of National Defense confirmation would mean Roh made it clear after the talks that the NLL would be upheld - fatally undermining the rationale for the Saenuri’s attacks on the issue. It is only the most damning of various pieces of evidence that have emerged to show Roh had every intention of maintaining the line’s integrity before and after the summit.

One of these came when Blue House senior national security secretary Kim Jang-soo, who had accompanied Roh to the summit as his administration’s Minister of National Defense, confirmed before the National Assembly steering committee on Oct. 4 that there had been “no disagreement” with Roh over honoring the NLL.

Kim reported meeting with Roh after the inter-Korean summit and before the second meeting between defense ministers from South and North.

“He just laughed and said, ‘Relax and just do your job,’ so I went and followed my convictions,” he recalled.

Kim made similar remarks to the steering committee on June 21, the day after the Saenuri Party released excerpts from the transcripts. His account is similar to the one from the Ministry of National Defense, which said Roh had approved the two principles in negotiations on the NLL.

The position in favor of upholding the existing NLL was followed not only in the follow-up measures after the summit, but also in preparations for it. Sources said then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Kwan-jin (now Minister of National Defense), who attended a meeting for countermeasures in lieu of Kim Jang-soo two months before the summit on Aug. 18, 2007, reported back to Kim that he was “satisfied” with the results of the meeting and predicted that the NLL “would not be much of a problem.”

Yet as recently as last month, the Ministry was avoiding a direct answer on the issue. When asked whether Roh approved the principles for the defense ministers’ talks, an official said it would be “inappropriate for the Ministry to weigh in on an issue involving a former President,” and that it was “unaware of any orders or conversations” at the time the principles were announced.

Many experts are saying the ministry has opened itself up to charges that it deliberately concealed its knowledge in order to help the Saenuri Party in its “NLL offensive.”

Indeed, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok made remarks in a regular briefing on July 11 that seemed to support the party’s claims that Roh had forfeited the line.

“If you look at the quotes from the transcripts in the press, they show Kim Jong-il saying, ‘What if we set up a joint fishing zone or a peace zone in the waters between the Military Demarcation Line claimed by North Korea and South Korea’s NLL?‘” Kim said.

“He was suggesting that we set up a joint fishing zone in South Korean-administered waters south of the NLL,” he added. “And that could be read as abandoning the NLL.”

The comments, which came a day after the NIS issued a spokesperson’s statement that used a distorted map with the MDL drawn much farther south than the actual line to claim that the transcripts showed Roh abandoning the NLL, had many critics charging that the NIS and Ministry of National Defense were coordinating with the Saenuri Party in its political attacks.

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