[EDITORIAL] Time for Some Housecleaning

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[EDITORIAL] Time for Some Housecleaning

Seoul's diplomatic and security team is hard pressed to avoid criticism that it has exposed a cacophony with Washington because of its complacent judgments of the situation during preparations for the Kim-Bush summit, where cooperative measures toward Pyongyang were discussed. South Korea's national interests in the Northeast Asian situation lie in creating favorable conditions for promoting a policy of reconciliation and cooperation toward the North without damaging Seoul's traditional alliance with Washington.

Seoul officials, including President Kim Dae-jung, are patting themselves on the back over the fruits of the Kim-Bush summit, but domestic and international assessments are not as generous as theirs. Critical views range from the British magazine The Economist's commentary that there is a danger of serious disharmony between Seoul and Washington to an insulting diagnosis that it was as if President Bush had slapped President Kim on the face (Selig S. Harrison, noted American Asian scholar). These remarks fuel our concern and anger.

Mr. Bush and his national security team have a disappointing perception of North Korea; in a Senate hearing, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the effect that North Korea is destined to collapse anyway; to induce its demise, Washington might as well support President Kim's sunshine policy. What did Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn and National Intelligence Service chief Lim Dong-won do when they visited Washington to pave the way for Mr. Kim's visit?

Unless the government discovers the causes of this problem and corrects them, we cannot rule out the possibility that the relationship between Seoul and Washington over North Korea policy will deteriorate into uncertainty and instability, ushering in another era of "uncomfortable relations." Washington's global strategy and Seoul's North Korea policy may have aspects that conflict.

We have pointed out several times that the fundamental cause for the summit's going awry rests with the fact that Seoul did not properly anticipate the possibility of the Bush government's shift in North Korea policy. Seoul has neglected to persuade Washington to its way of thinking during the U.S. political transition period, and it damaged Korea's national interests with a faulty analysis of the situation and a smug response under the misguided assumption that the Bush administration was bound to carry on with the Clinton government's North Korea policy.

President Kim agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin about maintaining and reinforcing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but he made a remark in the United States that sounded as if he were retracting his words. Seoul's standing has been eroded in both Washington and Moscow. Until recently, Seoul also said publicly that it would push for a peace declaration or the signing of a peace treaty at the second inter-Korean summit talks. However, the Kim administration suddenly announced a change of course, saying that in the talks it will concentrate on discussing measures to reduce tensions based on the North-South Basic Agreement, and that there will be no peace declaration or treaty after the summit. These are stark examples of how the government has not examined such policies, which contain many sensitive elements, in line with the overall Korean Peninsula situation. We believe that we cannot entrust our North Korea policy and the protection of our national interests to such a complacent and incapable diplomatic and security team.

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