|Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha greets U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before Pompeo's meeting with President Moon Jae-in at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Sunday, Oct. 7. That was after Pompeo's supposedly expletive-using outburst. AP-Yonhap|
By Oh Young-jin
Did U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo curse Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during their recent telephone conversation?
Minister Kang's answer was not clear-cut, leaving room for different interpretations.
Of course, if Pompeo indeed cursed or used profanities, it would mean a major violation of diplomatic protocols, an attack on sovereignty ― therefore he should apologize.
Rep. Jung Jin-seok of the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party asked Kang whether Pompeo expressed his discontent by using harsh words.
In response, Kang said: "I wouldn't define them to be harsh."
Jung then asked: "Did he use American slurs?"
Kang: "That was clearly not the case."
Kang explained that Pompeo was not fully briefed so asked many questions, which Kang answered as well as she could.
The parliamentary session followed Japanese media reports that Pompeo and by extension the U.S. were not informed in advance of the agreement to set up no-fly zones at inter-Korean borders, made during the third summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang last month.
The Nihon Keizai newspaper reported that Pompeo had reproved Kang for her failure to inform him, angrily telling her that she did not know what she was doing.
The report was correct, except that the conversation took place just before the Sept. 18-20 summit, not after it.
In all likelihood, Seoul told Washington of the no-fly zones but without enough consultation.
Then, the way Kang explained the situation indicated Pompeo didn't address Kang by using curse words but used expletives contextually to convey his anger.
It would be best for Pompeo to clarify whether he used improper language.
If he did, he should apologize. If he didn't, his clarification would suffice.
Korea and the U.S. have been allies in good times and bad. If that tradition of alliance is kept, manners are adhered to, or it could end up among the first cracks that lead to its collapse.