How to Change U.S. Assumptions

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How to Change U.S. Assumptions

As the U.S. deputy secretary of state-designate, Richard Armitage will soon have a great say in the Bush administration''s Korean Peninsula policy. For the last eight years, Mr. Armitage nursed a mounting displeasure with the Clinton administration''s engagement policy on North Korea, a sentiment prevalent among Republicans. His tough stance toward North Korea also coincides with the posture of the Bush administration''s security team represented by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Even in view of Mr. Armitage''s position, however, South Korea''s reaction to his recent remarks on North Korea is hypersensitive. In his May 1999 report on North Korea, Mr. Armitage already indicated his discomfort with the term iesunshine policyli by referring to it as isPresident Kim Dae-jung''s sunshine policy, now known as the engagement policy.

In this report, Mr. Armitage said, iaTo date, Pyongyang has responded to Seoul''s economic, social, and cultural non-govern- mental overtures, but has rejected any political reconciliation with South Korea.ll He also charged that North Korea negotiated with the United States and agreed to the Geneva Basic Framework only to buy time to continue its nuclear weapons program and build and sell new generations of missiles, which created an increasingly dan- gerous security environment in Northeast Asia.

Since it was issued 20 months ago, it is only natural that the Armitage Report failed to reflect the changes in the political situation on the Korean Peninsula after the North-South summit talks, especially the recently reported changes in the perceptions of Ntional Defense Commission chairman Kim Jong-il. Mr. Armitage''s advice against the use of the term iesunshine policy and his emphasis on the principle of reciprocity when he met a South Korean parliamentary representative should not mean that his views will be wholly incorporated into the Bush administration''s North Korea policy. He is only one member of its security team, whose line-up will be completed no sooner than mid- February. This means a comprehensive review on North Korea policy will begin in March at the earliest.

The conclusion of the review will probably reflect a large part of the changes in the political climate of the Korean Peninsula and in Chairman Kim since June, after President Kim Dae-jung spells them out to President Bush during their talks in March. The inauguration of the Bush administration clearly poses a great trial and challenge for Mr. Kim''s attempts to reach out to North Korea. The Clinton administration had only demanded that North Korea suspend nuclear and missile development as the condition for improving U.S. relations with the North. The nuclear issue was provisionally concluded through the Geneva Basic Framework and the missile issue had appeared to be on the verge of settlement after North Korea hinted at concessions last fall.

But the Bush administration is expected to impose harsher conditions for improving ties. Apart from reciprocity in concessions and transparency in nuclear and missile programs, it will probably demand that both the South and the North reduce their conventional capabilities and that North Korea moves its troops deployed along the frontline to the rear, as part of visible tension-easing measures. Human rights issues will be next.

If the Bush administration''s North Korea policy indeed proceeds in this order, it will signal one trial after another for Kim Jong-il and the last-minute frustration of President Kim''s engagement policy with North Korea. It will be with a heavy heart that Mr. Kim will be visiting the United States. He has to change the Republicans'' assumptions on an unalterable North Korea. It will be no easy task, trying to sell the theory of Kim Jong-il''s great transformation to the veterans of Korean Peninsula issues. Normalizing relations with North Korea is not necessarily an important issue for the Republicans, who are strongly resolved to develop a National Missile Defense system. There will not be much of a justification to deploy the system once North Korea''s missile issue is resolved.

The deep impression Kim Jong-il received from Shanghai could become an impetus pro- pelling North Korea toward a social market economy. But an essential condition necessary for North Korea''s economic reforms is assistance from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and Asia Development Bank, which North Korea can expect only by normalizing its relations with the United States.

North Korea''s reforms will be possible only after it passes through the barrier of the United States. This has placed the burden on President Kim of having to mediate North Korea-U.S. relations. Nothing is more essential than for Mr. Kim to use tangible signs to persuade Mr. Bush that North Korea is changing enough for the United States not to pursue a diplomacy of power on the Korean Peninsula.
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