SEOUL — Riding atop a tsunami wave of popular protest against perceived inequities in the Status of Forces Agreement governing U.S forces in South Korea and a general restiveness over the American military presence, South Korea’s president-elect, Roh Moo Hyun, promises to bring a new focus to South Korean-American relations, even as he strives to preserve intact his predecessor’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea — priorities that for Washington are contingent on the North’s abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
No longer, however, are the two policy tracks separate and distinct. They are interrelated and mutually dependent in the eyes of a majority of South Koreans. Thus the United States can no longer make policy choices vis-a-vis North Korea oblivious to their impact on South Korea. Nor can it automatically count on South Korean support if its policies conflict with Seoul’s own preferences — in this case engagement.