[INSIGHT]The death of the 'sunshine' policy

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[INSIGHT]The death of the 'sunshine' policy

So that's it. R.I.P., Sunshine Policy. Kim Dae-jung is finally a sure-enough lame duck.

"We had a very frank exchange," President George W. Bush said Wednesday in the press conference after his summit meeting with President Kim Dae-jung.

To Mr. Bush, frankness is a virtue.

"A lot of times I find in the diplomatic world that people want to gloss over issues," he said. "They don't want to spend much time really understanding each other's positions."

A New Yorker cartoon many years ago showed two exhausted diplomats slumped on the floor of a conference room. Their faces were bruised, their knuckles bloodied. Their shirts were ripped and the conference table was overturned.

"I suppose this means the usual communique," sighed one of the diplomats: " 'A full and frank exchange of views.' "

Neither president sported a fat lip or a shiner, so perhaps the cartoon was an exaggeration of what happens when there is a "frank exchange of views." But the body language at the press conference was unmistakable. Mr. Kim's face was a mask, his posture rigid.

"I believe we have become close personal friends," he said gamely. With friends like this, his demeanor suggested, who needs enemies?

Why are we surprised or disappointed? It has been clear for an entire year that Mr. Bush and Mr. Kim disagree on how best to deal with North Korea. Mr. Bush's "frankness" in Washington last March sent Mr. Kim home frowning, and he sacked his foreign minister.

This time he sacked the foreign minister before the summit, but got no better outcome. Mr. Bush does not "gloss over" disagreement, even to save the face of a treasured ally. As a senior U.S. diplomat either did or did not say in Seoul recently, this administration is not in the business of saving faces.

"Mr. President, I will continue to speak out" about North Korea, Mr. Bush declared Wednesday.

And what of the U.S. offer to meet Pyeongyang "anytime, anywhere, without preconditions?" That stands; indeed, Mr. Bush professed to be mystified that no one from the "axis of evil" has phoned him yet.

But why should they? What's in it for the North Koreans? Mr. Bush was asked this question Friday in an interview with a JoongAng Ilbo reporter in Washington. His reply "glossed over" the issue, with vague words about welcoming North Korea into the "family of nations."

The issue, he explained Wednesday, is freedom. "I love freedom," he said. "I understand the importance of freedom in people's lives."

Of course, we all love freedom. And President Kim, who spent years in jail for his love of freedom, hardly needs a lecture on the subject.

"I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong-il until he frees his people and accepts genuine proposals from countries such as South Korea or the United States to dialogue," Mr. Bush said, adding, "until he proves to the world that he's got a good heart."

Mr. Bush may have no preconditions for dialogue with North Korea, but he doesn't sound like a man trying seriously to lure an adversary to the negotiating table.

Of course, the United States has other fish to fry ?Iraq appears to be foremost in the administration's planning for the war against terror. Mr. Bush may be perfectly content to let relations with North Korea stay in the deep freeze for the time being.

But he has hung President Kim out to dry. Alliance partners will have disagreements just as family members will. And it is possible that a policy of confrontation will be more productive in the long run than Mr. Kim's preferred engagement policy. Many South Koreans agree with Mr. Bush on this point.

But they cannot be happy to have their president humiliated for the second time in a year by the American president.

A German friend of mine met a North Korean delegation at a conference in a third country a few months ago. He said to one of the North Koreans, "I don't understand your government. You have a Nobel Peace Prize winner who wants to accommodate you. Why do you insult him and ignore him? Do you think you'll get a better deal later from Lee Hoi-chang?"

"We don't care about the South Koreans" the Northerner replied, according to my German friend. "They are puppets. We have to deal with the United States. If we make a deal with them, it doesn't matter if it's Lee Hoi-chang or Kim Dae-jung or Kim Jong-pil - the puppets will have to agree to the deal."

Does Mr. Bush, too, regard his South Korean allies are puppets? Even he might "gloss over" the answer to that one.


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The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by Hal Piper

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