Future Talks with North Must Be Different

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Future Talks with North Must Be Different

The second round of inter-Korean ministerial talks, which ended yesterday, failed to meet our expectations. The issue of South Korean POWs and abductees was not broached at all, and there was no move toward the easing of military tensions and the establishment of trust. Of course, there were some results; The institutional devices for economic cooperation have been prepared, the working-level committee for the restoration of the Seoul-Shinuiju railroad will launch in September, and more separated families and tour groups will be exchanged. The talks progressed according to the North's pace, however, and the South is hard pressed to avoid criticism for showing no progress on the issues deemed important by the public.

To begin with, the South Korean delegation left for Pyongyang without prior knowledge of its itinerary, although the government glosses this over as a "technical matter." The aircraft was decided upon by the North as the means of transportation, and when the North suggested that the delegation go to a dog meat restaurant, the South Koreans had no choice but to acquiesce. The day before yesterday, the South Korean delegation was informed that they would meet an important official the following day and the group expected to meet Chairman Kim Jong-il, but were disappointed.

Why do such irregularities take place? Basically, the North is to blame for taking an attitude that does not abide by accepted diplomatic practices. To ensure successful, productive talks in the future, the South should firmly express its standpoint, rather than continually giving way and giving in. When the South gives the impression that it is depending on the North for progress in these talks, how can we expect a fair agreement?

Before leaving for Pyongyang, Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu, the chief delegate of the South, had said that the subject of POWs and abductees would be broached. The result is disappointing. The lack of any achievement in this issue and in military trust derives from a fault in the June 15 Declaration. The issues of separated families and unconverted long-term prisoners in the South were stated in the document, but there was no mention of South Korean POWs or of a peace structure. As it is, North Korea denies the existence of POWs and hopes to discuss military issues with the United States, rather than with the South. It will be impossible to approach these particular issues without keen negotiation skills and strong determination.

The two Koreas must attend future ministerial talks with an emphasis on principles. In the long run, such a line will provide the essential key to narrowing the gap between the North and the South. The South's principles and positions should be reflected on all future agreements. The government must remember that it will invite only mistrust from the general public if it continues to say, "Even though it is not stated in the agreement, an understanding has been reached." Balance is a necessary condition in any successful relationship.

by Min Byong-kwan

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