[EDITORIALS]Pyeongyang's new face

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[EDITORIALS]Pyeongyang's new face

On Tuesday, what appears to be a big change in North Korean diplomacy toward South Korea and the rest of the world was witnessed at the foreign ministers meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations Regional Forum in Brunei. North Korea's foreign minister, Paek Nam-sun, had an informal and unexpected chat with U. S. Secretary of State Colin Powell before moving to a meeting room, where he did not say a word when his South Korean counterpart, Choi Sung-hong, and Mr. Powell expressed regret over the North Korea-initiated naval clash in the Yellow Sea in June. Previously, Mr. Paek would have been expected to reply to such remarks by blaming the South for the incident. Instead, Mr. Paek merely emphasized the importance of inter-Korean coexistence through dialogue and cooperation and the necessity of Pyeongyang-Washington talks.

Signs that Pyeongyang might finally be stepping out of its secluded state first came with its apology over the Yellow Sea clash and the proposal to hold a ministerial-level meeting with the South. North Korea has agreed to send a non-government delegate to a North-South event scheduled to be held in Seoul on August 15. Also, North Korea's member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, has proposed that a North-South sports competition be planned and talked of the possibility of a North Korean team attending the Asian Games this fall in Busan.

In Brunei, North Korea also agreed to a foreign ministers' meeting with Japan and showed flexibility on the rank of the U.S. envoy that could be sent to Pyeongyang. This is how after 18 months of the Bush administration the foreign ministers of North Korea and the United States could hold a conversation. North Korea's shift coincides with the market-friendly changes it has been applying to its economy, suggesting that these changes are not a passing spur-of-the-moment move, but a step toward opening the country.

North Korea's new policy seems directed at earning the support of international society to revive its bankrupt economy through desperately needed aid and to expand its relations with the South to prepare for attracting more investment. The message that the Bush administration consistently sent out to Pyeongyang was that only improvement in its relations with Seoul would lead to North Korea gaining the trust of the United States. Should North Korea turn back to its former habit of using the South as a pawn to influence the United States, it would lose ground in both South Korea and the United States. South Korea is the only country that has both the ability and the will to help the North.

North Korea should present a detailed proposal for improving relations with the United States under the principle of give-and-take. It should specify what it is willing to sacrifice, especially over U.S. concerns over weapons of mass destruction, and what it expects in return.

Further brinkmanship on the part of the North could have a devastating effect on its relations with the United States. Only when Pyeongyang's relations with Washington improve, can all parties in this diplomatic imbroglio relate more freely. Our government should also make clear to North Korea what is acceptable and what is not as it quietly facilitates negotiations between Pyeongyang and Washington. The United States should approach North Korea without demanding that it fulfill difficult prerequisites. Help must be given to North Korea in securing its new foreign policy if the "North Korea problem" is to be solved with peace and security finally returning to the Korean peninsula.
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