Careful Steps Toward North-South Peace Treaty

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Careful Steps Toward North-South Peace Treaty

In an interview with the New York Times on Sept. 10, President Kim Dae-jung expressed hope that the issue of establishing a system of peace between the two Koreas would be concluded before the end of his term in 2003. Earlier, in a dinner hosted by the Korea Society in New York, he delivered an address, part of which read, "To establish a system of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the four-party talks, which include South and North Korea, the United States and China, must work towards an agreement to replace the 47-year-old armistice with a peace treaty. South and North Korea must be the principal parties in the peace treaty, with the United States and China in supportive roles."

The signing of a peace treaty is desirable because it will dramatically improve North-South relations, including easing military tensions. Nonetheless, considering that a fundamental change in attitude on the part of North Korea and the cooperation of the international community are essential, the South Korean government needs to offer a blueprint and strategy for a treaty to South Korean citizens.

A peace treaty will be possible when the South and North recognize each other as principal parties in military matters. Unfortunately, however, the North has consistently denied the South recognition as its counterpart. North Korea's General Park Jae-kyong, who visited Seoul during the recent Chusok (harvest thanksgiving) holidays, rejected even a courtesy meeting with the South's minister of defense and quickly returned to the North. The public is likely to view this action as further evidence of the North's allergy to military dialogue with the South.

The question of principal party recognition is connected with the future status of the United States Forces in Korea. Therefore, without the prior coordination and confirmation of mutual trust between South Korea and the United States, President Kim's remark is liable to ring hollow. Going a step further, for peace treaty discussions to develop, North Korea needs to change its stance on weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms and missiles, and give the international community confidence in its change of attitude. It is natural for South Koreans to doubt how all the stumbling blocks in the domestic and international spheres will be removed by 2003.

To get to a peace treaty, it is important first to tackle the simpler issues that will benefit all - the two Koreas and the international community. To begin with, North Korea must change its attitude in the South-North defense ministerial talks to be held this month. If the North does not budge from its persistence to discuss military issues with the United States and the rest with South Korea, the very tenet of the June 15 Declaration is likely to be damaged. Even more important, public opinion in South Korea will not tolerate it, because of discontent about spending an enormous amount of money on fertilizer and food aid to North Korea but failing to receive military dialogue in return.

The South and North are capable of introducing certain measures on their own initiative and thus transmitting a signal of peace to the international community. For instance, military talks could be held regularly, each side could be notified of upcoming military exercises on the other, and troops concentrated in the demilitarized zone could be moved to the rear. At the same time, the South should explain its position to its allies. For example, South Korea could seize the opportunity of the annual Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting scheduled for Sept. 21 to reassure the United States of its actions and intentions.

In dealing with a complicated issue involving many interested parties, it is important to pay attention not only to domestic public opinion but also to the positions held by surrounding nations. It will not do to make haste.
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