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[Viewpoint]Clinton’s ‘tough and direct diplomacy’

The secretary of state showed Kim Jong-il his immature, irresponsible tactics will not affect the U.S.-South alliance.

Feb 27,2009
Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. secretary of state, rounded up her first official tour of Asian countries successfully on Sunday. The remarks she made during the trip decorated headlines around the world. But they must have given frustration to Kim Jong-il and his followers in the North and sunshine policy supporters in the South.

The North Koreans were obviously expecting more or less flexible engagement policy from the incoming Obama administration. In anticipation for that, they broke off the six-party talks since July last year refusing to agree on a set of verification procedure for the inspection of its nuclear facilities.

It was unfortunate for the North, therefore, that Hillary Clinton never hesitated to say that North Korea could be in a crisis situation due to succession problem and that she had no intention or plan to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. North Korean leaders must have been shocked to hear such awful words.

Obviously, there is a controversy over whether it was proper for the secretary of state of the United States to meddle in the succession problem of a third country. However, her frank remarks reflect the change in the U.S. position in negotiations with North Korea. They are the expression of will that the United States will pursue an active strategy of utilizing internal changes in North Korea, such as succession problem, in its nuclear deal with the North. That is, Washington will not be dragged along by the North’s brinkmanship tactics any longer but will respond actively to the North by utilizing all available means.

Referring to the succession problem, Clinton said, “They (South Koreans) are confronting a lot of worries about what’s up in North Korea, what the succession could be, what it means for them.” It was unusual for the secretary to sympathize the worries of another country. Her remarks are the reflection that the two countries are in close cooperation over the issue and are discussing a contingency plan for post Kim Jong-il era.

Besides the brinkmanship tactics, there is another tactic the North resort to. That is the tactic of “talking with the U.S. while isolating the South.” When there is a change of government in Washington, North Korea uses the tactic. It was no exception this time, while appealing for a dialogue with Washington, the North started to threaten the South with possible military provocations, cancellation of inter-Korean agreements and invalidation of maritime demarcation line, etc. As if to nail it, Clinton said, “If North Koreans are going to drive a wedge between the United States and the Republic of Korea, they are badly miscalculating that.” “Our alliance is stronger than ever,” she added.

It means the Obama administration will not promote a deal with North Korea behind South Korea’s back. In other words, the Korea-U.S. alliance has priority over a direct talk between Washington and Pyongyang.

The administration’s position on the nuclear deal was also defined by her. It can be summed up as “dismantlement first, diplomatic normalization later.”

In an address to the Asia Society, she said, “If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations…” She said her goal lies in “completely and verifiably eliminating” North Korean nuclear weapons program. On the plane en route to Japan, she said, “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea, and that means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs…” She also used such expression as “verifiable and complete dismantling and denuclearization.” Literally, they all sound the same with CVID ? complete, verifiable, irrevocable, dismantlement ? the goal set by the first-term Bush administration officials.

One thing left unclear is the role China plays in the North Korea issue. Prior to her meetings with Chinese leaders, she said, “What will China be willing to do with respect to the six-party talks and their bilateral relationship with North Korea?” She did not conceal she was half in doubt and half in expectations.

After the meeting with the Chinese leaders, however, she did not say a word except the official position: “China has already contributed in positive ways, as the chair of the six-party talks.” Either there was not much discussion, or the two sides were not willing to disclose the contents. We have to wait and see what comes next.

All in all, Clinton revealed the essence of “tough and direct diplomacy” of the new administration. In talks with North Korea, the tough and direct diplomacy of the Obama administration is keeping the principle of denuclearization. It also means that the United States will not be swayed by North Korea’s brinkmanship tactics nor allow North Korea to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul any longer..

Judging from the remarks Clinton made during her Asia tour, it is time for North Korea to face facts as they are. The North Korean leaders should realize that the Obama administration will not be surprised even if they launch a long-range missile.

They should realize that the brinkmanship tactics will not work as long as the alliance among South Korea, the United States and Japan is tightly maintained. They should also consider whether it is wise to confront against its neighboring powers when its leadership situation is shaky. It is time for North Korea to fulfill the obligations in the 2007 agreement and get economic, energy and other necessary assistance for North Korean people.


*The writer, a former editorial writer of the JoongAng Daily, is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji Univeristy.

by Park Sung-soo



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