US envoy to S. Korea suggests restraint is needed on anti-N. Korea leaflets

Posted on : 2024-06-12 17:02 KST Modified on : 2024-06-12 17:02 KST
Ambassador Philip Goldberg said that while the US believes in “free speech,” there is a need to reduce tensions, not increase them — in contrast to the Yoon administration’s use of free speech as a motivation for not stopping defector groups from provoking Pyongyang with anti-regime leaflets
US Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg speaks on the CSIS podcast “The Impossible State” on June 11, 2024. (@CSIS on YouTube)
US Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg speaks on the CSIS podcast “The Impossible State” on June 11, 2024. (@CSIS on YouTube)

While condemning North Korea for raising tensions with its launching of “balloons filled with trash” toward the South, US Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg also suggested that some South Korean groups bear responsibility with their distribution of propaganda leaflets in the North.

Speaking Tuesday on “The Impossible State,” a podcast hosted by the US think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, Goldberg described North Korea’s launching of the garbage-laden balloons toward the South as “outrageous” and “as the State Department said, childish.”

“I think that it’s natural for the ROK and President Yoon [Suk-yeol] and his government to take measures to show that we are going to continue to deter these provocations as best we can through building up the alliance,” he continued.

While describing the current situation as “very unpredictable,” Goldberg stressed, “We’re ready for anything.”

Explaining that US Forces Korea was “follow[ing] this hour by hour and minute by minute,” he added, “We at the embassy [are] ready for anything that happens.”

“We are discussing the full range of our military and security policies to make sure that the ROK is reassured and the people of the ROK are reassured of the American commitment, which shouldn’t be in doubt,” he said.

“Those 28,500 troops that are in South Korea are evidence of that long-term commitment,” he continued.

Commenting on the context behind North Korea’s actions, he suggested they could be related to the new set of circumstances as Pyongyang strengthens ties with Moscow while working to manage relations with Beijing.

He added, “It’s just part of something that’s going on, especially with the North Korean announcement of a new policy about not wanting unification, two separate states, [and] South Korea being the enemy.”

Goldberg also mentioned tensions surrounding the abandonment of the September 2018 inter-Korean military agreement and suspension of its terms.

“This also has to do with the leaflets that go North and in part their response from the North,” he said.

“We of course believe in free speech and the rest, but we also understand that we need to reduce tensions, not increase them,” he added.

His remarks were taken as suggesting that the scattering of leaflets in North Korea provoked it to retaliate by sending the trash balloons. They were also read as urging groups to refrain from sending the leaflet balloons into the North — in contrast with the South Korean government, which has cited freedom of speech as the reason for not taking action to prevent them.

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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