[EDITORIALS]Bush brings opportunities

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[EDITORIALS]Bush brings opportunities

U.S. President George W. Bush has begun his tour of three Asian nations. After visiting Japan, on Tuesday he arrives in South Korea. Mr. Bush has clearly stated on several occasions that the United States is open to dialogue with North Korea, but that it will not disregard the issues of weapons of mass destruction and the array of conventional weapons placed along the Demilitarized Zone.

Mr. Bush's visit comes at a critical juncture for South Korea, which is in a confrontation with North Korea, part of the "axis of evil" referred to by Mr. Bush. At the same time, the South is pursuing a policy of engagement with the North. Thus, for Seoul, the American president's visit will be a chance to iron out differences over North Korea policy.

The United States has clearly stated its positions on North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and on conventional weapons. The position of the South Korean government does not vary from that of the American government. But Seoul is of the stance that it does not want to make these weapons the top issue, but would pursue these problems through dialogue and economic aid. The United States has addressed the weapons issues as a real threat and has set it as the first priority in its approach to North Korea.

This difference requires that we take the opportunity of the summit between President Kim Dae-jung and Mr. Bush to ease the threat, promote inter-Korean dialogue and solidify the security alliance between Seoul and Washington. The basic goal of engaging the North is to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula. The United States's calls to focus attention on the issues of security has resulted in a division of roles between South Korea and the United States. Through an appropriate division of roles between South Korea and the United States, we can come up with a realistic roadmap to engage the North and at the same time alleviate military tension on the Korean Peninsula. We will also have to tackle the task of selling the idea to both North Korea and the United States.

From North Korea's point of view, it may seem that Washington has done an about-face by dubbing their country as an "axis of evil." However, the Sept. 11 attacks have greatly altered the United States and the world's view regarding weapons of mass destruction and existing military tension. The prevalent mood is that there can be no economic assistance without first addressing these issues. Thus, North Korea needs to realize the changed international reality brought on after Sept. 11. As the White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice pointed out, peace on the Korean Peninsula "has been maintained not by North Korean charity but by the strong alliance between South Korea and the United States."

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