[EDITORIAL] Why Did Lim Visit the U.S.?

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[EDITORIAL] Why Did Lim Visit the U.S.?

Lim Dong-won, director-general of the National Intelligence Service, returned Sunday from an eight-day visit to the United States. On Monday he briefed President Kim Dae-jung on the results of his trip. He is expected to elaborate on his report behind closed doors to the Standing Committee of the National Security Council on Thursday.

Although Mr. Lim's visit drew attention in many ways, the motive for his travel abroad still remains something of a mystery. He arrived in Washington only a day after Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Lee Joung-binn returned from the United States. It has been confirmed that he met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, but whether he met other officials and held further discussions is unknown.

In view of his role in the government, we can only presume that Mr. Lim traveled to the United States in an effort to fine-tune opinions in advance of a Seoul visit by National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

But several questions remain unanswered: Was the issue so urgent and important to warrant another face-to-face meeting with diplomatic advisers in the United States, shortly after the Korea-U.S. foreign ministerial talks had ended? Had there been any serious disagreements that made this personal contact necessary? Were the negotiations successful? And is it fair to assume that both countries will smoothly coordinate their North Korea policy?

As an architect of the sunshine policy and a leading advocate for engagement with the North, how closely Mr. Lim is in tune with the new Bush administration is pivotal to South Korea's North Korea policy.

It is understandable - given the nature of his position as chief of an intelligence agency, and the nature of the issues - that a certain degree of secrecy is necessary. However, the public is entitled to be kept informed about major negotiations between Korea and the United States. Unanswered questions breed suspicion, and suspicion leads to distrust.

There are those who contend that the Bush administration intends to tie in South Korea's purchase of next generation warplanes (something reportedly pushed by the United States during the Korea-U.S. foreign ministerial talks held since George W. Bush took office) with the two countries' North Korea policy coordination. The behavior of the South Korean government on this score is so suspicious that this argument seems more than mere speculation.

The public wants an acceptable level of transparency on these matters. There is no doubt that American cooperation is essential for the smooth administration of our North Korea policy. However, the people's support and trust on these matters is of utmost importance. Wasn't last year's North Korea policy, pursued so hastily, slowed precisely because it had been pushed through without the people's consent?

In order for the people to trust the government, they should at least be informed about the issues and convinced of the propriety of the government's direction. Mr. Lim should, at the very least, satisfy the main points of the people's queries in the National Assembly, the people's representative body. If necessary, he could clarify the issues to the party representatives behind closed doors. All the people are asking for is a minimum degree of assurance that the government is moving in the right direction on North Korea.
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