[EDITORIALS] Don't Let Policy on North Drift

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[EDITORIALS] Don't Let Policy on North Drift

After the Seoul-Washington summit talks, Seoul's North Korea policy seems to be swerving off course. After the United States demonstrated a hard-line tenor, the North called off ministerial talks, but Seoul seems totally in the dark as to why the North cancelled the meeting or if it will be rescheduled. In the United States Congress, there are voices demanding a reconsideration of the Geneva Agreed Framework, and the North vilifies "imperialist United States" hundreds of times a day. It is true that Seoul is being driven between a rock and a hard place. Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn sounded as if he endorsed Washington's demand of verification, and the National Security Council seems in a situation where it is unable to put forward measures to help. The government is at a crucial junction where inter-Korean rapprochement, achieved with great difficulty, could go awry if Seoul gives the impression that it is sitting on the fence.

Therefore, the government must swiftly overcome the diplomatic shock it experienced in Washington and reestablish its stance on North Korea, after which it should readjust the framework of inter-Korean negotiations and persuade the United States to come closer to Seoul's view. It is necessary and appropriate to unfold the policy of expanding reconciliation and exchanges between the Koreas based on the government's engagement policy. But the government has put off or ignored basic inter-Korean issues, such as easing military tension, a halt to the development of weapons of mass destruction and ultimately the establishment of a peace regime. The government claimed that putting-off military issues were a "roundabout" way to ease tensions, but they have become too pressing to put off any longer.

The government needs to confirm inter-Korean trust as it carries on the existing policy of reconciliation and cooperation toward the North. The South should suggest to the North that concrete plans to reduce tensions be put on the inter-Korean negotiation agenda. During his visit to the United States, President Kim Dae-jung should have embraced the military issues as an agenda item for inter-Korean negotiations instead of entrusting it to Washington and suggesting that Seoul and Washington play shared roles. Meanwhile, the North, having confirmed the United States stance demanding verification, should give up on plans to address military issues as leverage to improve its ties with Washington. The North-South talks should be upgraded to the level where the authorities of the two Koreas examine a "comprehensive negotiation plan." Such an advancement of the situation will enhance Seoul's position with Washington. If Chairman Kim Jong-il visits Seoul as planned, it will turn inter-Korean reconciliation and peace settlement into an established fact. In that case, Mr. Kim's visit may prove a crucial event.

We understand why the United States government harbors suspicions, but there is no need to blindly follow its hard-line policy. We believe one of the important tasks of the South Korean government is to help adjust Washington's perception of North Korea, which is built on exaggerated information of its military strength and Washington's abhorrence of the North Korean regime. A national consensus in South Korea would be the most essential element in backing such an attempt. Anti-American sentiments are being fueled by some pro-North Korean organizations in the South, but it will only widen rifts among South Koreans. The government should keep in mind that anti-American feelings will also damage the driving force behind North Korea policy.
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