[EDITORIALS]Why Wait for Washington?

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[EDITORIALS]Why Wait for Washington?

President George W. Bush announced Wednesday that the United States would restart negotiations with North Korea now that his administration's policy review is completed. While the dialogue between the two countries, stalled ever since Mr. Bush came into office, may resume, it is difficult to be optimistic about where the talks will lead.

North Korea wants to resume the dialogue where President Clinton left off while Mr. Bush made it clear that he wants to start the talks from ground zero. Whether North Korea will accept the offer is anyone's guess.

Among the agenda items Mr. Bush put forward was "improved implementation" of the Agreed Framework of 1994, "verifiable constraints" on North Korea's missile programs, a ban on missile exports and a less threatening conventional military posture.

Mr. Bush's intention seems to be to put on the negotiating table all outstanding issues - uncovering North Korea's past nuclear activities through an early inspection, freezing the North's missile programs through verifiable constraints and a pullback of its massive troop deployment near the border with South Korea - and expanding humanitarian aid and easing sanctions if the North Koreans respond favorably to his offer.

While Mr. Bush maintained the overall policy of trying to engage the North, the approach is starkly different than that of Mr. Clinton. Mr. Bush's announcement appears to reflect the view pervasive among his aides that North Korea is an untrustworthy rogue state.

It is difficult, therefore, to understand how the South Korean government can be so optimistic as to interpret the Bush announcement as a product of its skilled diplomacy and to expect a watershed in the stalled inter-Korean talks. When President Kim Dae-jung visited Washington in March, Seoul prematurely announced that the dispute between the United States and South Korea over North Korean policy was resolved, because Mr. Bush took sufficiently into account South Korean views. Seoul was proved wrong only a few days later.

Interpreting events in a way that is advantageous to itself when there is no objective evidence to be hopeful amounts to an attempt to distort public opinion. The same can be said of recent incursions into South Korean waters by North Korean commercial vessels and their subsequent crossing of the Northern Limit Line. Because of the false expectation that if we yield first, North Korea will return our favor, the Blue House fumbled in its initial reaction.

North Korea refused to consider the South's proposal to hold talks on a maritime accord while intruding into South Korean waters as if they were in their own territory. Naturally, criticism that the government is compromising security and sovereignty poured in.

The government's overly optimistic view that the dialogue between the United States and North Korea will naturally lead to the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue is also troubling. While the two are complimentary in some respects, the delay of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's return visit to Seoul and a complete halt in inter-Korean talks cannot be blamed exclusively on the strained relations between the United States and North Korea after Mr. Bush's inauguration.

Rather, the South Korean government should be more self-confident and regard inter-Korean dialogues as generating fuel for relations between the United States and North Korea. The government needs actively to seek ways to persuade North Korea to come to the negotiating table rather than wait for Washington to take the initiative.
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