[INSIGHT]Harsh words are bad medicine

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[INSIGHT]Harsh words are bad medicine

In July 1993, President Bill Clinton of the United States visited Korea and made a trip to the Demilitarized Zone. There, standing at the Bridge of No Return facing North Korea, he vowed that if the North Koreans ever attempted to develop and use nuclear weapons, it would mean "the end of their country."

His choice of words is still somewhat disturbing to me. I do not think that it is proper for a head of a state to talk about another country's end as if it is a simple matter, even though the words may have come from the president of the world's most powerful nation.

Mr. Clinton planned to visit North Korea in November 2000, a last attempt to add another shining achievement in his foreign policy before his departure.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had visited North Korea earlier; Mr. Clinton was planning a visit to Seoul after his trip to North Korea. This move was based purely on a short calculation by Mr. Clinton, which supposedly would transform a doomsday scenario suddenly into a peaceful one.

The Geneva Accord in August 1994 was helpful in easing tensions; nevertheless, the United States continued using phrases such as "rogue country" in its official reference to North Korea. The outcome of this last attempt by Mr. Clinton to be the peacemaker failed in the end as President-elect Bush signaled a harder line on the North.

Who knows what might have happened if the scheduled visit had transpired according to plans? Perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize? One thing for sure is that for the incoming Bush administration, which had supported a National Missile Defense plan as one of its main campaign themes, a peace initiative was not in the cards.

North Korea did not break its word, and, as far as we know, it has violated none of the four agreements reached in Geneva.

Then we have to ask the United States why it has suddenly come up with the "axis of evil" idea and designated the Korean Peninsula as the most dangerous spot in the world.

North Korea joined the world in condemning the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. North Korea has not been involved in terrorist acts recently, but efforts to wipe out terrorism have made it a target again.

No matter what history may say about North Korea it does not justify the names the United States has used. After such insults how can one say the channels for talk are still open?

The United States may look down on a country if it wants, but negotiations with it will not be the same. If the "axis of evil" speech by Mr. Bush were truly designed as a tool to bring North Korea to the negotiation table, the actual benefits of its acceptance of talks should be considered.

Even if North Korea were to come to the table, the current situation and the tone set by the United States would make it look more like a one-sided deal than a negotiation between two sovereign nations.

Nevertheless, one has to consider the fact that the North possesses the fifth largest standing army in the world, with friendly countries, such as China and Russia, right in its backyard. What North Korea wants is the fulfillment of the Geneva Accords. Then it would probably like to discuss any new "matters." In North Korea's eyes, the slowness of the United States to fulfill its part of the bargain might be perceived as breaking the Geneva Accords.

As the scheduled visit of Mr. Bush nears, the hard-line voices in the United States seem to have quieted down. This is a good thing for a country like ours, which suffers a cold when the United States coughs.

The United States' strategy might not satisfy the taste of the Korean people, and Mr. Bush's strong words may not fit into their vocabulary.

Some say that his strong words, which create an atmosphere of mistaking a peace offensive for a threat of war, are for domestic political consumption or to boost America's arms trade.

Whatever the intent, one thing that Mr. Bush has to remember is the fact that there are some things that cannot be done as one wishes. Aesop compared it to sour grapes that the fox cursed and made sour. Mr. Clinton seemed to understand that fact; we are waiting to see if Mr. Bush does.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Joseph W. Chung

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