[EDITORIALS]Electricity Issue Requires Care

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[EDITORIALS]Electricity Issue Requires Care

The resumption of contact between North Korea and the United States and the subsequent exchange of negotiation agendas are positive developments. Reacting to the American proposal to discuss nuclear weapons, missiles and conventional weapons reduction, North Korea said Sunday the compensation for its loss of electricity resulting from the delay in the provision of light-water reactors should be discussed first. While it will take some time for both sides to finalize the agendas to be discussed, the government should formulate a clear policy stance on the compensation for the electricity issue.

Contrary to North Korea's assertion, the responsibility for the delay in the provision of light-water reactors does not fall entirely on the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. North Korea should also bear the responsibility of delaying the accord on the construction of light-water reactors during the early stage of the negotiation. It also unilaterally withdrew its workers once demanding a wage increase and delayed the completion of the construction. In addition, the United States is bound by agreement to provide 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil every year until the No. 1 reactor is completed. Thus, North Korea's justification for demanding compensation for electricity loss - because the completion date is now pushed back to 2008 from 2003 - is weak.

The problem is that South Korea is becoming mired in this issue, which the North has been insisting since 1999, without a clear idea of what it wants. The Council on Foreign Relations based in New York has called for linking the electricity provision issue to North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear and missile development programs. Unification Minister Lim Dong-won has said such is not the intention of the government. Mr. Lim's words imply that the U.S.-North Korea negotiations and the electricity provision by the South to North are separate issues. Such a stance shown by Mr. Lim's makes us wonder whether he is trying to implement a secret agreement with the North or trying to realize the return visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

If the electricity provision issue is discussed during the talks between the North and the United States, the responsibility of providing electricity should fall to the United States and the KEDO and not on South Korea. The government should make this clear to the United States and the KEDO should clarify the point in accordance with the 1994 Agreed Framework. We are also paying a close attention to Mr. Lim's statement, which sounds as if South Korea was actually going to provide electricity to the North. Provision of electricity, which is a strategic asset, should be preceded by a national consensus and the government promised openness on this issue at the end of last year. Of course, the electricity issue was discussed during the fourth North-South ministerial meeting and a working-level meeting was held in Pyongyang in February. But these were efforts at the governmental level and the issue has never faced public scrutiny. If there was no public discussion on the matter within South Korea save for exchanges of views between the two governments, it will only raise suspicion that there were secret dealings by saying it will actually provide electricity to the North.

The lukewarm measures against North Korean ships' intrusion and violation of Northern Limit Line and the belated exposure that a maritime transport agreement was under negotiations have already deepened the suspicions over the existence of a secret agreement. If Seoul unilaterally goes ahead with the electricity provision, it will only strengthen the argument of those who say this is all intended to hasten the return visit by Kim Jong-il. The government should open the electricity provision issue to a public debate if only to subside the rumors about secret dealings and to obtain support for its North Korean policy.
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