Mistakes by the President’s interpreter

July 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Korean interpreter

Interpreters are humans and they make mistakes. Even the best of them can and do make mistakes.
This is when the ex President Moo Hyun Roh of Korea visited President Bush of the U.S.
A Korean reporter asked a question, and President Bush answered first. Then Bush was making a joke: “See, I’ll interpret the question for him. How come you look so beautiful in your blue tie, Mr. President?”

And then Bush said that he agrees with President Roh that the U.S. is responsible for defending Korea and it should not be used politically, on the issue of the transfer of operational control from the U.S. to Korea.

Then President Bush asked President Roh, “Did he ask you a question?” to mean, whether the interpreter interpreted the question right. Then the President’s interpreter interpreted to mean, “Was that a satisfactory answer?” And President Roh said, “Thank you for your great answer.”

It was like praising Bush’s answer, without answering to the question that was directed to him. The reporters who were present there bursted into laughter. Then Bush said again, “Hope everybody else agrees with it.”
The following is the record of the meeting.
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PRESIDENT BUSH: We have proposed legislation that will enable the Central Intelligence Agency to be able to conduct a program to get information from high-value detainees in a lawful way. And that idea was approved yesterday by a House committee in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. It is very important for the American people to understand that in order to protect this country, we must be able to interrogate people who have information about future attacks.

So the question I ask about any piece of legislation is, will the program provide legal clarity so that our professionals will feel comfortable about going forward with the program? That’s what I’m going to ask. And I will resist any bill that does not enable this program to go forward with legal clarity. And there’s all kinds of letters coming out — and today, by the way, active duty personnel in the Pentagon, the JAG, supported the concept that I have just outlined to you. This is an important program for the security of this country. And we want to work with Congress to make sure that the program can go forward. If there’s not clarity, if there’s ambiguity, if there’s any doubt in our professionals’ minds that they can conduct their operations in a legal way, with support of the Congress, the program won’t go forward and the American people will be in danger.

Q (Asked in Korean.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: See, I’ll interpret the question for him. (Laughter.) “How come you look so beautiful in your blue tie, Mr. President?” (Laughter.)

No, he asked about operational control, and the date — the appropriate date of operational control. My message to the Korean people is that the United States is committed to the security of the Korean Peninsula. Decisions about the placement of our troops and the size of our troops will be made in consultation with the South Korean government. We will work in a consultative way at the appropriate level of government to come up with an appropriate date.

I agree with the President that the issue should not become a political issue. I have talked to our Secretary of Defense about making sure that the issue is done in a consultative way and at the appropriate level of government, and that’s how we will end up deciding the appropriate transfer of operational authority.

Did he ask you a question?

PRESIDENT ROH: (As translated.) Yes, that was a very good answer. Thank you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Hope everybody else agrees with it.

PRESIDENT ROH: (As translated.) As for the question about the common and broad approach being talked about between our two countries for the re-start of the six-party talks, I must tell you that we are at the working level of consulting very closely on this issue, but we have not yet reached a conclusion and this issue is very complex, so I would be hesitant and it would be difficult for me to answer the question at the moment.

The important thing to remember, that South Korea now faces the issue of North Korean nuclear issue. And this, I would say, is the one important issue that we’re facing. On the other hand, the United States has a host of other issues to deal with: the Iran, Lebanon crisis, the war in Iraq. So what is important to remember is that the fact that we are consulting closely on the North Korean nuclear issue and we are consulting on ways to re-start the six-party process, and I believe this is the important point.

That this is, in fact, very meaningful that the United States is devoting much of its efforts to resolving the North Korean issue. This is very significant for the Korean government.

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