Rational Policy on North Korea Desired

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Rational Policy on North Korea Desired

Transform Emotional North Korea Policies to Sustainable Cool-headed Approach

U.S. Secretary of State Albright arrived in Seoul wearing a cowboy hat after her Pyongyang visit. When asked for her personal impression of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, she described him as "a good listener, good interlocutor, practical and very decisive." It was a concise and courteous appraisal of Mr. Kim that clearly had future negotiations in mind.

The secretary of state wore a Stars and Stripes brooch for her first meeting with Mr. Kim, and a white, heart-shaped brooch for the state banquet. Her choice of brooches seemed to indicate she had came to Pyongyang to have heart-to-heart talks in the national interests of the U.S. Diplomatic sources state she wears an eagle or bee brooch when she has to issue a stern warning. Every well-chosen word and - in the case of Ms. Albright, every piece of jewelry - conveys a diplomacy that promotes national interests and demonstrates negotiating skills.

As long as the two Koreas maintain two states, two governments, and two systems, searching for common ground through diplomatic negotiations should be the order of the day. Thus far, however, our North Korea policy takes into account only nationalistic, emotional and humanitarian concerns.

We believe, perhaps somewhat innocently, that inter-Korean issues could be resolved by the two Koreas embracing each other. This leaves no room for calculated negotiations to safeguard national interests. Advocates of the emotion-laden "embrace" approach are called pro-reunification while the negotiation supporters are branded anti-reunification forces.

There are limits to what can be accomplished by pursuing emotion-based reunification policies. As we experienced, one or two reunions of separated families - a product of the emotional tact - were all well and good. But we belatedly realized that determining whether displaced relatives are living or deceased, and coming up with a concrete system to arrange such meetings is far more important than a few symbolic reunions. Emotion-driven policy is, by definition, not necessarily rational. Whereas a diplomatic approach necessitates careful deliberation and cool-headed thinking, if relations are to develop gradually and systematically. Past South Korean administrations persisted to take the emotional road and failed to view relations objectively - resulting in quarrels of a familial and not diplomatic nature.

The current administration''s system of pursuing North Korean policy remains, to a certain degree, emotion-based. Outwardly, the Unification Ministry is in charge of reunification policies. It is an agency that primarily concerns itself with inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, and humanitarian aid. Presiding over this agency is President Kim Dae-jung, the architect of the sunshine policy, with the head of National Intelligence Service as his missionary. They are barrelling ahead with the policy regardless of its potential costs and consequences.

In the initial stages of inter-Korean dialogue, it was necessary for those armed with passionate beliefs to play key roles. Secret negotiations could be tolerated to some extent.

It is time to enter the stage of reason. Discussions of a peace system on the peninsula as a foreign policy issue between Pyongyang and Washington appear to be imminent. A detailed report on the costs of restoring the Kyongui railway and the construction of an industrial park in Kaesong need a full airing.

We are in a difficult position. On the one hand, we must remain alert of the North''s intentions, while at the same time carefully observe the U.S. as they begin discussions on a peace agreement. Preventing the two countries from playing the key roles, without the South''s participation, is imperative. The "Korea-U.S. Provisional Agreement" Pyongyang proposed in 1996 clearly designated Washington as its negotiating partner, and the two countries are showing signs of discussing such an agreement by side-stepping Seoul.

It is time for the government to alter the character of its North Korean policy. The emotional approach is no longer acceptable. North Korea policy must be rational. The Unification Ministry must take a realistic look at inter-Korean relations, and designate the vice prime minister as its head so that he can effectively supervise the Foreign Ministry, the Unification Ministry and the NIS. We have to put trade experts and diplomats on the front lines of inter-Korean negotiations, with the Unification Ministry supporting with its resources, and the NIS as a source of reliable intelligence. Cooperation between the three agencies is necessary to transform emotional North Korea polices into sustainable rational policies. Albright''s brooches are far more than adornments, they show forethought and symbolize her policy objectives.

The writer is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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