Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
07SEOUL2653
2007-08-31 08:22:00
SECRET
Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

HOSTAGES AND RAMIFICATIONS ARE COMING HOME TO KOREA

Tags:  PREL PTER PINR MARR MOPS AF KS 
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FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6353
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 6837
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 3062
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 8529
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2129
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 0599
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA PRIORITY 2447
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0095
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR PRIORITY 2564
RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA PRIORITY 8832
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH PRIORITY 0147
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE PRIORITY 5756
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3199
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE PRIORITY 1171
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0494
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC//J-5// PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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RUEHBUL/USDAO KABUL AF PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0205
S E C R E T SEOUL 002653 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2017
TAGS: PREL PTER PINR MARR MOPS AF KS
SUBJECT: HOSTAGES AND RAMIFICATIONS ARE COMING HOME TO KOREA

Classified By: AMB. ALEXANDER VERSHBOW. REASONS 1.4 (b/d).

S E C R E T SEOUL 002653

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2017
TAGS: PREL PTER PINR MARR MOPS AF KS
SUBJECT: HOSTAGES AND RAMIFICATIONS ARE COMING HOME TO KOREA

Classified By: AMB. ALEXANDER VERSHBOW. REASONS 1.4 (b/d).


1. (S) SUMMARY: On August 30, all of the remaining Korean
hostages held by their Taliban captors in Afghanistan were
turned over to the International Committee of the Red
Crescent in Ghazni. Out of the 23 Koreans kidnapped by the
Taliban, two were killed, two were released on August 13, and
the remaining 19 will now head home in the coming days.
According to the acting ROK foreign minister, the ROKG
agreement with the Taliban on hostage release included only
two conditions: 1) that Korea withdraw its remaining
military personnel from Afghanistan by the end of the year,
and; (2) that the ROKG prohibit missionary activities by
Korean citizens in Afghanistan. ROKG officials deny that a
ransom was paid, a claim which most Koreans are skeptical
about. Beyond the Taliban, the Korean public places the
biggest blame on the church that sent the missionaries to
Afghanistan in the first place. They have expressed a
mixture of resignation and disappointment at the USG
response, but do not blame the United States. The Korean
media have given President Roh credit for the way in which he
has handled the crisis, but many are also criticizing him for
breaking with international principles about negotiating with
terrorists. While most consider the outcome the best
possible result under the circumstances, they worry that
Korean citizens are now more likely to be targeted by others.
Meanwhile, Korea's image as a promoter of missionary zeal
and its stated commitment to fighting the global war on
terror have both been called into question. With four months
left in the ROK presidential election campaign, the Roh
Administration is hoping that its resolution of the crisis
will benefit the more liberal candidates, but owing to these
serious concerns, the accolades are more likely to be
short-lived. Implications for the United States include an
apparent end to ROK military support in Afghanistan, which
was planned in any case. It is also too early to gauge the

fallout for the ROK deployment in Iraq, which too will
conclude at the end of this year without another mandate from
the National Assembly. END SUMMARY.

--------------
ALL 19 REMAINING HOSTAGES RELEASED
--------------


2. (SBU) After 43 days of being held by their Taliban
captors, the remaining 19 Korean missionaries have now been
turned over to the International Committee of the Red
Crescent in Ghazni and, with U.S. and ISAF assistance,
transported to safety in Kabul. Previously, the Taliban had
killed two of the male hostages and released two of the
females unharmed. After an August 28 agreement was reached
with South Korean government negotiators, the Taliban let an
additional 12 hostages go on August 29. On August 30, the
remaining seven were then set free. They arrived at the
U.S.-led Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters
that evening. All of the former hostages have been screened
for health concerns by Korean medical personnel. According
to our contacts at the Ministry of Foreign and Affairs and
Trade, none of the released hostages appeared to have any
specific medical problems, aside from being generally
weakened by their ordeal. The ROKG has made arrangements to
return the 21 surviving missionaries to Korea on a commercial
airliner via Dubai on August 31. The bodies of the two slain
males had previously been returned to Seoul for burial.

--------------
THE ROK'S DEAL WITH THE TALIBAN
--------------


3. (S) On August 28, following a series of four
face-to-face meetings led by ROK National Intelligence
Service chief Kim Man-bok, Korean and Taliban negotiators
reached an agreement for the release of all remaining 19
hostages. That evening, ROK Blue House spokesman Cheon
Ho-seon announced that the agreement was for the release of
all the hostages "in return for the pullout of Korean troops
within this year and a pledge to stop sending Christian
missionaries to the country." Cheon noted that ROK President
Roh Moo-hyun had been briefed on the agreement and had
instructed ROKG officials to do their best to ensure that all
the hostages are released and returned home safely. Cheon
also expressed gratitude to the Afghan government,
multinational troops stationed in Afghanistan, and
international organizations for their support. The Blue
House did not mention or thank the U.S. Government.


4. (C) On August 29, Deputy Foreign Minister Shim Yoon-joe
assured the Ambassador that the only conditions the ROKG had
agreed to for the release of the hostages were:

-- (1) Korea would withdraw its remaining military personnel
from Afghanistan by the end of the year, as had already been
decided before the hostage crisis; and

-- (2) The ROKG would prohibit missionary activities by
Korean citizens in Afghanistan, a step that had already been
taken immediately after the hostages were captured.

--------------
KOREAN MEDIA REPORTS A U.S. "WINK AND A NOD"
--------------


5. (U) All the major ROK television stations interrupted
their regularly scheduled programming for the live
broadcasting of the August 28 Blue House statement, and for
the next three days the on-going resolution of the hostage
situation continued to dominate all media outlets. The
moderate Hankook Ilbo and the left-leaning Hankyoreh Shinmun
reported that the Defense Ministry, in a move to comply with
the first item in the agreement, was preparing to expedite
its withdrawal of Korean troops from Afghanistan by the end
of this year. On August 29, a senior member of the ROK Joint
Chiefs of Staff was quoted as saying that Seoul would notify
allied nations of its pullout plans next week.


6. (U) After initial expressions of joy and relief over the
release of the hostages, media commentators began questioning
how the ROK had handled the situation, and what additional
concessions may have been included in the deal. Responding
to criticism that the ROK has broken with international
principles about negotiating with terrorists, Hankyoreh
Shinmun quoted a ROKG official as saying that direct
negotiations had been an inevitable choice, and that the U.S.
understood the need for such talks after two of the hostages
were killed. The right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo gave credit
to U.S. "behind the scenes" support for making a "great
contribution to resolving the hostage crisis." Both JoongAng
Ilbo and Hankook Ilbo gave prominent play to quotes from an
official with the ROK Embassy in Washington who said the U.S.
had supported ROKG negotiating efforts, while publicly
observing its principle of making no concessions to
terrorists. The JoongAng Ilbo singled out CIA Director
Michael Hayden (who had previously served with U.S. Forces
Korea) as providing behind-the-scenes U.S. support for the
ROK's solution to the crisis.


7. (U) Polling of an on-line panel of 101
university-educated Koreans who follow international and
political news indicated that aside from the Taliban, the
majority of Koreans blamed the church that had sent the
missionaries to Afghanistan in the first place. A majority
also expressed resignation or disappointment at the U.S.
response, rather than anti-Americanism, and generally felt
the South Korean government had done as well as it could
under the circumstances.

--------------
POTENTIAL POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS
--------------


8. (S) The safe return of the hostages to Korea is an
obvious victory for President Roh. Other winners include
National Intelligence Service chief Kim Man-bok, who led the
negotiation, and MOFAT officials who fronted the ROKG effort.
At that same time, however, by choosing to negotiate with the
Taliban, the South Korean Government has made a bed in which
it now must lie. For the following reasons, the accolades
being showered upon the Blue House are being tempered with a
good deal of criticism.

Was Ransom Paid?
--------------


9. (S) ROK officials have denied that the deal they struck
with the Taliban included the payment of ransom. When asked
about it, the Blue House spokesman replied that he could not
reveal the "concrete processes" of the negotiation, but that
"feasible options" were proposed by the ROKG negotiators.
The ROK media remain skeptical and have pressed the
government for more details of the agreement. If it is
revealed that the ROK government did, in fact, pay a ransom
for the hostages' release, it is likely to fuel criticism of
the ROKG that their handling of the situation was in
contravention of accepted international norms for dealing
with terrorists.

ROK Actions Have Damaged Its Reputation in the World
-------------- --------------


10. (S) With four months left in the ROK presidential
election campaign, the Roh Administration is hoping that its
successful resolution of the hostage crisis will somehow
benefit the more liberal candidates. If the comments of
leading members of both the ruling and opposition parties are
a guide, this hope may be in vain. The opposition GNP has
been critical of Roh's decision to negotiate with the
terrorists, while at a dinner the Ambassador hosted on August
28 for CODEL Watson, even some ruling party members joined in
that criticism. Many Korean conservatives and nationalists
will also bemoan the fact that South Korea has gone soft,
arguing that under past conservative governments the ROK
would have dealt with the situation more forcefully and in
better coordination with its trusted American ally.


11. (S) Outside of the political debate, Korean security
experts have expressed serious, and probably well-placed
concern, that Korean citizens will now be seen as "walking
ATMs" for others throughout the world seeking to make money
by kidnapping them. Those soberly assessing the ROK deal
with the Taliban must also be concerned that the Taliban will
only be encouraged (and perhaps now better financed) to make

other innocent civilians suffer for their extremist cause.
Other commentators have pointed out that by electing to
negotiate with terrorists, the ROK has severely damaged its
reputation in the world, for it has broken with an important
well-established and principled policy of the international
community.


12. (S) Since the hostage crisis began, South Korean society
as a whole has also been closely examining and questioning
its image as a country known for its missionary zeal. The
ROK has a great many Christian missionaries and politically
powerful churches that will not respond well to the ROK
Government's decision to ban their members from going to
Afghanistan. While they may lie low for a while, they will
no doubt forcefully argue that the government cannot dictate
to religious workers where they may go in the world to
proselytize.

--------------
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
--------------


13. (S) The most immediate and important implication for the
United States is that ROK military support for Operation
Enduring Freedom appears to be coming to an end. This
harrowing experience for the ROKG also will not make its
upcoming decision on whether to extend its military dispatch
to Iraq any easier.

Waning Support For Operation Enduring Freedom
--------------


14. (S) In the wake of the hostage crisis, no one in the
ROK Government is likely to oppose the ROKG decision to
withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year,
if not sooner. That decision appears to be irreversible.
Second, while MOFAT has been quick to assure us they will
still give every consideration to the plan of replacing their
military medical and engineering units in Bagram and Parawan
with commensurate civilian personnel, that too is now likely
to be a far more difficult domestic political sell.

A Poor Example in the Global War on Terror
--------------


15. (S) Finally, President Roh's decision to strike a deal
with the Taliban, even if no ransom was paid or other
troubling concessions made, clearly undermines South Korea's
credibility in the eyes of the world as a reliable partner in
the global war on terror. Nothing that Korea has done should
be interpreted as lessening in any way the desire of the
average Korean citizen, or average government official, to
see terrorism eradicated from the face of the earth. But in
the wake of its decision to make a deal with terrorists, the
ROK must now live with the fact that its actions have spoken
louder than its words.


16. (S) EMBASSY COMMENT: In domestic political terms, the
safe return of the 21 hostages is a clear net plus for the
Roh Administration. The fact that this did not become an
anti-U.S. issue in Korea, and the helpful spin about U.S.
assistance in the mainstream media, indicates that we too
have fared well. In that sense, this outcome does appear to
have been the best result that could have been achieved under
the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is troubling that our
ally was so unwilling to attempt to rescue its citizens or
retaliate against the Taliban, but was willing to lobby for
the release of terrorist prisoners and perhaps even pay
ransom to terrorists. There are some early indications the
ROK may now be looking to "make it up to the U.S." by giving
favorable consideration to extending its presence in Iraq for
another year. After allowing for a few days during which the
hostages are returned to Korea, we will certainly explore
that possibility. At the end of the day, while we recognize
that President Roh had very tough choices to make, his
credibility as a partner in the global war on terror has been
undermined. END COMMENT.
VERSHBOW