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[VIEWPOINT]Detente Requires Bipartisan Support

The Clinton and Bush teams share a common view on the need to work closely with South Korea.

May 15,2001

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's meeting with President Kim Dae Jung this week clearly signaled that the United States will renew bilateral negotiations with North Korea, affirming similar assurances given by newly-appointed Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly at his April 26th Senate confirmation hearing. Armitage's public statement, even prior to the completion of the Bush policy review, suggests continuity rather than a drastic departure from the objectives of the Clinton administration (though tactics and rhetoric may differ), and may help to achieve a bipartisan consensus in Washington on how to deal with North Korea.

The likelihood of renewed U.S.-North Korea dialogue is significant, particularly in light of the administration's professed skepticism toward the intentions of the North Korean leadership. The approaches of the old and new administrations also share a common foundation - the necessity to work closely with South Korea. Any successful U.S. policies toward North Korea will be tied to and closely coordinated with those of the South Korean government.

If indeed it is possible to achieve broad support in Washington for an approach to Pyongyang that combines dialogue with greater transparency and verification, the policy review will have been time well spent. House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde signaled the possibility of a bipartisan accord on North Korea if satisfactory verification arrangements can be achieved with North Korea in an important speech to the American Enterprise Institute following Kim Dae Jung's March visit to Washington.

The immediate tangible benefit of such bipartisan cooperation would be Congressional approval for the administration's request to almost double the heavy fuel oil appropriation for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization to US$55 million, although intensified debate is likely over whether to replace the nuclear plants promised to North Korea with conventional power plants.

The pause in the dialogue also allowed the North to signal clearly the value it places on negotiations with the United States and to affirm that it will maintain a moratorium on missile testing through 2003. Such statements create a positive atmosphere for renewed negotiations.

But Pyongyang's decision to suspend inter-Korean dialogue pending the outcome of the U.S. policy review has strengthened the hand of hard-liners in Washington, even though tangible progress in inter-Korean relations would undermine opposition to U.S. dialogue with Pyongyang.

There must also be bipartisan support for the engagement process in Seoul. The problems at the first Bush-Kim meeting last March were due primarily to a combination of the new administration's "anti-Clintonism" and the inability of South Korean opposition politicians to give even limited credit to the current government in one of the few areas where it has actually succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

Now is the time to set things right. President Kim Dae Jung should also seek to broaden domestic political support for continued dialogue with North Korea, and the opposition party should support the resumption of dialogue initiated by last June's inter-Korean summit. Public expectations here will inevitably require the North to show some reciprocity if the dialogue is to be sustained. The opposition leadership should also pledge to meet with Kim Jong Il during his return visit to South Korea.

The dialogue process may be frustrating, but it has yielded tangible benefits to both sides and is the only way to make progress toward peaceful coexistence on the peninsula. The dialogue will only be successful if there is bipartisan public support in both South Korea and the United States. Then, the success or failure the current process will clearly be up to Kim Jong-il.



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Scott Snyder is the Asia Foundation representative in Korea. These views are his own, not necessarily those of the Asia Foundation.


by Scott Snyder




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