[EDITORIALS]Pyongyang, Moscow and Kim's Visit

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[EDITORIALS]Pyongyang, Moscow and Kim's Visit

National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il of North Korea left Thursday for an official visit to Russia. He reportedly will travel on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for more than a week and arrive on Aug. 4 in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 5. As inter-Korean dialogue is deadlocked and no substantive progress has been made between North Korea and the United States, the visit is drawing keen attention.

Mr. Kim's visit was expected; it is a reciprocal trip for Mr. Putin's visit to North Korea in July 2000. However, we note that it is the first made by a North Korean leader to Russia since Kim Il-sung's travel in 1986 and the first official visit since the change of leadership in Pyongyang from father to son. The North Korean leader visited China in May 2000 and in January, but both were unofficial trips.

Ties between Pyongyang and Moscow, strained since Seoul and Moscow established diplomatic relations, were revitalized by the treaty of friendship and cooperation the two countries signed in February 2000. Mr. Putin wants to regain influence on the Korean Peninsula for Russia , leading him to negotiate a specific accord on cooperation in defense and military equipment. Mr. Kim's visit to Russia, initially expected to take place last spring, was probably postponed because of differences on military cooperation.

The two parties, therefore, have probably reached an agreement at the working level on the specifics of military sales by Russia to North Korea. Mr. Kim, for his part, will want to further solidify his relations with Moscow before sitting down with the United States.

If Chinese President Jiang Zemin visits the North this September or October as planned, visits between the heads of state of North Korea, China and Russia will be complete. Already, China and Russia have declared a new partnership. The solidarity between China, which is rapidly rising as an economic power, and Russia, which is still a military power, would encourage a tripartite alliance among North Korea, China and Russia. The three countries have already jointly opposed the U.S. anti-missile shield. The alliance of those three northern countries is casting the ominous shadow of a new cold war around the Korean Peninsula; cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan has faltered since the inauguration of the Bush administration in the United States and the Koizumi administration in Japan.

The government should no longer take an easy-going attitude. It should not judge the visit as simply a prelude to the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue and dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington. The situation now is very different from a year ago, when the two Koreas signed the June 15 Joint Declaration. We must bear in mind that contacts between North Korea, China and Russia have speeded up since the bubble of hope that President Kim Dae-jung nurtured with his Berlin Declaration burst. The government should study how contacts among North Korea, China and Russia will affect inter-Korean relations and politics on the Korean Peninsula.

It is important to understand that the political situation on the Korean Peninsula has changed greatly, and we cannot count on Kim Jong-il's visit to Seoul. The only key to overcoming this uncertain situation is to strengthen cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan with a long-term perspective, curbing the impatience for a Kim visit here.

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