[EDITORIALS]The North and the U.S. Forces Korea

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[EDITORIALS]The North and the U.S. Forces Korea

The key to the South Korean government's argument that the North is changing lay in the supposed approval by North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il at last year's summit of the continued deployment of U.S. forces in South Korea - even after reunification. But the basis of that argument is falling apart. Mr. Kim declared at the summit talks with President Vladimir Putin of Russia that the U.S. Forces Korea is "a pressing issue." The core of South Korean government's thesis that the North has changed has been torn apart.

Nevertheless, government officials are interpreting North Korea's demand for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a card to play in Pyongyang's relations with the United States. When the North Korean Foreign Ministry and government-operated media and organizations continued to call for the withdrawal of the troops even after the summit meeting last year, government officials benevolently saw only declarations made for domestic solidarity. In other words, there is a tendency to interpret the demand as a strategic tool. North Korea in truth wants to approve the stationing of U.S. troops in Korea, the reasoning goes, but it is obliged to demand the withdrawal of troops for strategic purposes of solidarity and domestic pacification, and now to counter the hard-line policies of the Bush administration. Given the peculiarity of the North Korean regime, it is difficult to say that such a position is altogether unconvincing. Furthermore, the government's interpretation could be understood as a means to break the present deadlock in its relations with the North.

It remains in question whether it is correct for the government to continue to pursue an appeasement policy in regard to North Korea's position on the U.S. forces that have been the decisive lever in maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. If the North is officially demanding the withdrawal of the troops, the Seoul government should accept that as a fact and work to keep Korea's national security strong. Embracing the North based on a hidden intention is of little help to Korea's security.

President Kim Dae-jung emphasized the day before yesterday, "Chairman Kim Jong-il said at the summit talks 'Your thoughts on U.S. Forces Korea are the same as mine.' He said the same thing when South Korean presidents of media companies and Madeleine Albright, then U.S. secretary of state, visited the North." What he said to the media presidents, however, was "The withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea is something the United States must deal with independently." He said nothing further. The same applies to Mrs. Albright's visit. To the contrary, recent indications suggest that North Korea's thoughts have not changed. In an interview with ITAR-TASS before leaving for Russia, Chairman Kim said, "The United States has invaded half of the Korean Peninsula with its forces," implying that South Korea is a colony of the United States.

If the South Korean government continues to claim, based on undisclosed information, that the North approves the stationing of U.S. troops in South Korea, it should make public in greater detail the facts that respond to people's unanswered questions. Only then would the thesis that Pyongyang is changing be convincing and the sunshine policy's legitimacy strengthened. Disclosure would also minimize unnecessary misunderstanding and conflict. The South Korean government should neither excessively embrace the North on the issue of U.S. Forces Korea nor view it excessively pessimistically. What is important is discerning reality as is.
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