Clinton's Visit Has Broad Support

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Clinton's Visit Has Broad Support

The boardgame "paduk," also known as "go", is a contest of skills between two players. Occasionally, one player of superior ability plays against several players of lesser skill in what is considered a multilateral game. North Korea''s leader Kim Jong-il is currently playing a game - and exhibiting a high degree of tactical skill - against South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, which resembles, in many respects, the multilateral paduk. The one difference would be that Mr. Kim''s competitors are masters of the game as well.

In one deft stroke, Mr. Kim seems to have cleared the path necessary for U.S. President Bill Clinton to visit North Korea by meeting his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in a diplomatic style that displayed both drama and strategic thinking. If Mr. Clinton''s visit to Pyongyang materlialized next month, the two countries are likely to reach a basic agreement on a permanent peace system on the Korean Peninsula and normalization of relations. Such issues as North Korea''s ballistic missile program and removal of the North from the U.S. list of rogue states that sponsor terrorism would melt away in the framework of such an agreement.

Negotiations between North Korea and Japan to establish diplomatic relations are also expected to make headway within the year, and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori may be able to visit Pyongyang early next year. By then, North Korea would have completed the task of laying the foundation necessary for it to become a full member of the international community. The larger picture seems to indicate that North Korea drops its military adventurism and accept peaceful coexistence, in return for South Korea and the U.S.'' guarantee of the security of its system, and international support for its economic recovery.

With regard to establishing diplomatic relations, North Korea asked the U.S. to officially remove it from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, and recognize it as a "normal state." These conditions are necessary for the North to carry out normal diplomatic activities and to be eligible for assistance from international financial organizations.

The United States, meanwhile, insists that the North take counter-terrorism measures and abandon its long-range missile program. The two countries managed to substantially bridge the divide in their positions during Cho Myong-rok''s U.S. visit. In return for its concessions, North Korea expects the U.S. to launch two to three non-military satellites each year. Last year, the South launched a science satellite, the Arirang I, placed into orbit by an American aerospace company, at a cost of $21 million. Based on that figure, it would be possible for both sides make a deal on the number of missiles to be launched in a year.

North Korea is asking for $1 billion dollars a year for three years, in return for ending its export of short-range missiles, which is one of its key sources of foreign currency. The North may indeed accept the U.S. proposal for compensation based on its actual earnings from missile exports over the last few years. Again, this doesn''t present a significant problem. North Korea would readily give up missile exports if it paves the way for getting economic and financial assistance from the outside world and guarantees that its system would remain intact.

The North''s leader is likely to put on quite a performance if and when he receives Mr. Clinton, one that would surpass the show he produced during his meeting with President Kim Dae-jung last June. He is also likely to reach an agreement on a range of bilateral issues. Among the issues, the establishment of normalized ties between the two countries and a peace system will undoubtedly be of primary concern. One potential problem is the possibility that George W. Bush, the Republican candidatel wins in the November presidential election. Even in the event of Mr. Bush''s victory, Mr. Clinton could still go to Pyongyang with the conviction that even a Republican administration would have to respect whatever agreements he reached during his term in office.

The progress in North Korea-U.S. relations is what South Korea has been hoping for. Inter-Korean reconciliation is a necessary condition for bringing peace to the Korean peninsula, but not sufficient condition. The necessary and sufficient conditions can be met only if North Korea and the U.S. normalize relations. Inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation, and improvements in Pyongyang-Washington relations are not at odds with each other, but complementary.

North Korea is seen as being insincere in its efforts to advance inter-Korean relations ever since Cho Myong-rok visited Washington. But we should not assume the North has reverted to its previous tactic of side-stepping the South by dealing only with the U.S. Pyongyang is certainly aware that improving ties with Washington would be impossible without improved ties with Seoul.

Establishing a peace system on the peninsula is of paramount importance in the ongoing U.S.- North Korea talks. The peace mechanism should be based on a peace agreement signed by the South and the North, within the framework of a four-party agreement. Close policy coordinations between Seoul and Washington to that end is now more urgent than ever before.

by Kim Young-hie

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