Thursday, May 31, 2007

Korean tribute

South Korean Ambassador Lee Tae-sik is remembering the U.S. veterans of the “Forgotten War” by traveling the nation to meet with the aging warriors who helped save his country when communist North Korea attacked more than 50 years ago.

In visits to Illinois, Montana, Utah and other states, Mr. Lee has met with more than 600 veterans of the Korean War and presented them with cell phones donated by the South Korean electronics company, Samsung. His goal is to meet at least 1,000 veterans by the end of the year, Mr. Lee told editors, reporters and business executives of The Washington Times over dinner at South Korea’s ambassadorial residence, an elegant Northwest home designed by a Korean architect.

“These gifts are from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “These phones are a small token of friendship because these veterans are the indispensable ones.”

Mr. Lee said about 200,000 Americans served in Korea from 1950 to 1953 — a war that ended in a cease?fire, not a peace treaty. Nearly 37,000 Americans, 415,000 South Koreans and 3,000 allies fighting under the auspices of the United Nations died in the conflict, sometimes called the “Forgotten War” because it was overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War. It is a conflict that continues today on the divided peninsula as South Korea, the United States and other nations try to persuade the Stalinist North Korea to relinquish its nuclear-weapons program.

In December, about a month after assuming the position as ambassador in Washington, Mr. Lee stopped in Missoula, Mont., to lay a wreath at the Montana Korean War Memorial and meet with veterans. He was on his way to Big Sky, Mont., for talks on a U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement.

“I wanted to pay a personal tribute, and I wanted to pay a tribute from my country,” he told the veterans at the wreath-laying ceremony, “You came to protect us and to save us.”

He promised to return to Missoula later this year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the monument.

Mr. Lee dined with more than 20 Korean War veterans in Salt Lake City in March, while on a trip to visit Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

Last month in Rockford, Ill., Mr. Lee told veterans that their sacrifice allowed South Korea to develop a vibrant democracy and strong economy over the past 50 years. He predicted that South Korea will eventually win the war through diplomacy, not combat.

“We will win the South Korean-North Korean war, but we will do it without another war,” he said, according to the McHenry County, Ill., Blog, which covered his visit. “When we have improved relations with North Korea, it will have served to prevent a second Korean War.”

‘Weak state’

Afghanistan is hobbled by a weak government, not a strong Taliban terrorist threat, the retiring U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said yesterday.

Ronald Neumann, who spent two years as ambassador in Afghanistan, assessed the condition of the country six years after the United States overthrew the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

Mr. Neumann, who retired from the foreign service yesterday, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that Afghanistan suffers from corruption “at all levels” of society but cited the strength of the Afghan army and the development of the judiciary as successes.

“It is a weak state and not a strong Taliban that is causing us problems,” he said.

After his speech, he told the Associated Press that the downing of a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which killed five soldiers, was not “significant from a strategic point of view.”

“I am sorry for the loss of life,” he said.

Mr. Neumann urged the United States to remain in the South Asian country to prevent the “destruction of Afghanistan and the rebirth of radicalism.”

“It is a very long-term process, and we have to dedicate ourselves to that,” he said.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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