[EDITORIALS]Wooing petulant comrades

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[EDITORIALS]Wooing petulant comrades

The second round of meetings of the North-South Korea Committee for the Promotion of Economic Cooperation have been called off one day before their scheduled opening in Seoul. North Korea abruptly decided to boycott them. This is getting to be a habit; how long do we have to put up with it, even though Seoul has some responsibility for the North's behavior?

The North took issue with a story on the Washington Post quoting Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong as saying the Bush administration's hard-line stance toward North Korea was successful. To emphasize that the matters between North Korea and the United States should be worked out through dialogue, Mr. Choi said to the U.S. side, "Talk softly, but carry a big stick." For whatever reason, the "talk softly" part of his comments were omitted from the article. Mr. Choi said that his intent was to ask the United States to treat the North softly.

To the North, that was Seoul pandering to a foreign power again. Pyeongyang has asked Mr. Choi to apologize several times and asked Seoul to take unspecified action. That has not happened, but is it justification for calling off an economic cooperation meeting? The incident shows that North Korea wants to control South Korean officials and manipulate inter-Korean meetings to their taste. North Korea has already succeeded in forcing the resignation of a South Korean Red Cross committee chairman by criticizing his comment that there is no freedom in the North. They also expelled the minister of unification by complaining about his tough stance in high-level meetings with the North. The Kim Dae-jung administration blundered by appeasing the North Korea in those cases. They should not be repeated.

The government should calmly analyze whether the North's boycott of the talks has something to do with its military's resistance to discussing the poor construction of the Geumgangsan Dam at this meeting. Seoul should also focus on why the North habitually scuttles agreements. Unless we understand the reality, inter-Korean issues like economic cooperation or the Geumgangsan Dam cannot be dealt with rationally.

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