Coordinating North Korea PolicyThe first South Korea-U.S. meeting of the two nations' top foreign affairs officers since the new American administration was installed served to confirm in principle the need and intention to cooperate on North Korea policy. In a jointly issued press release, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed support for Seoul's policy of rapprochement and cooperation with Pyongyang. But to see this as a resolution of the subtle differences between the way our government views North Korea policy and the way the Bush administration does is to jump to a wishful conclusion. As Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn said after the meeting, it was mainly an occasion to explain our policy to the Americans. It was not the sort of meeting in which one irons out differences of opinion or viewpoint.
What grabs our attention is the statement made in a briefing by the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher. He said that Mr. Powell had acknowledged the need to promote U.S. interests by moving toward closer relations with North Korea step by step in a realistic manner but had not yet discussed the specifics of when and how this might be done. America experts are predicting that it will take the Bush administration six months to a year to work out the details. There will be a period of watching for real changes to take place in the Pyongyang as the United States re-examines its North Korea policy on the basis of the principle of reciprocity. We should, therefore, regard the meeting as only a start, which leaves fine tuning for a later agenda.
We think it is appropriate that it was decided to initiate a top-level South Korea-U.S. negotiating channel separately from the existing Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group of South Korea, the United States and Japan. There are numerous problem areas in which the two countries need to coordinate efforts, including not only on North Korea's missile program but also on conventional weapons, biological weapons, reduction of tension, aid to the North, freezing the development of nuclear weaponry, support for electric power generation and the formation of a mechanism for maintaining peace. Our government will have to approach coordinating with the Americans on specific policy issues in an assertive yet flexible manner, being persuasive when persuasion is called for and being willing to re-examine matters that may indeed need adjustment. The process of working with the new U.S. administration on North Korea policy has only just begun.