Name Games

A Bush administration official recounts how, in the high stakes diplomacy over disputed territory, a tenuous peace can unravel because of a single typo.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

When you work at the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), early-morning phone calls are almost never good news. This is especially true when the person on the other end of the line is a foreign embassy official.

When my home phone rang at 7:00 a.m. that Sunday in July 2008, a colleague from the South Korean Embassy was on the other end of the line. After a quick apology for disturbing me at such an early hour, he expressed his "deep concern" about Washington’s "new stance" on South Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo, a disputed group of small islets in the Sea of Japan (or East Sea, to the Koreans). He wanted to know what was behind the apparent change in U.S. policy. I recall him mentioning a "BGN website," making reference to "undesignated sovereignty," and indicating that his government was seeking immediate clarification of the issue.

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