[NOTEBOOK]Winning the Battles but Losing the War

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[NOTEBOOK]Winning the Battles but Losing the War

What if former U.S. President Bill Clinton had been able to visit Pyongyang during his term?

Washington and Pyongyang could have established liaison offices and North Korea could have gotten relief from the U.S. military power arrayed against it.

The North could have received international support for transforming Kaesong and Nampo into clones of Shanghai, which North Korean leader Kim Jong-il described as having undergone a cataclysmic change. At least, the North would not have to go through another full set of negotiations with the United States, threathening the Americans with nuclear weapons and missiles again.

Mr. Clinton pushed a visit to the North until the last moment, but missed his flight to Pyongyang as President-elect George W. Bush objected to that plan.

It is clear that the change in the U.S. administration is the most decisive reason for the current reversal of the atmosphere. Yet, such a change was predictable, so diplomatic experts find their clue in North Korean strategy, which is basically brinksmanship and a standoff with the United States.

Mr. Clinton was closer than any other U.S. president to being on friendly terms with Pyongyang. He wanted to achieve a peaceful settlement on the Korean peninsula during his term. Yet, the North saved its last card until the end of Mr. Clinton's term, expecting that it would receive even more gifts as the clock ticked. Pyongyang went over the edge of the cliff by playing too risky a game.

So, what has the North ended up with? Unless it not only gives up what it earned in the past negotiations and concedes even more, it cannot keep the concessions it gained during the Clinton administration.

Kim Jong-il is taking another big chance. He froze inter-Korean relations, including his reciprocal visit to Seoul, exerting pressure to the South Korean government to influence the United States.

While Kim Il-sung was in power, the North and the South attempted to reconcile a number of times. The Koreas agreed on a joint statement in 1972 and a basic political agreement in 1991. In 1994, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter supported a summit between the two Koreas. But the North, calculating its gains and losses, always went back to the point of origin every time there was progress in inter-Korean relations.

If the North Korean leader's intention to begin talks was nothing more than a ploy to communize the peninsula from the beginning, there is nothing more to talk about. The North could have believed that the next administration would be willing to give them more, or the North might have enough resources within its country so that it does not need outside support.

Watching the changes in China, which invited President Nixon to visit in 1972, around the time when the July 4 North-South Joint Statement was announced, a diplomatic expert made a convincing argument. "North Korea seems to win every battle but is losing the war." East Germany led negotiations with West Germany and made small gains every time, but the nation eventually collapsed.

The diplomatic expert explained that there were two methods by which Kim Jong-il pressures the United States. The first is by making the South Korean government impatient by breaking off all inter-Korean talks. The other is by actively talking to other countries - in particularly South Korea - with the expectation that the United States would lose its justification for its hard-line policy toward the North and be forced to soften its tone.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged the North Korean leader to visit Seoul, in effect suggesting that Pyongyang choose to win the war. But the North Korean leader seems to have chosen the other option, walking the risky edge of the cliff,

Mr. Kim, who lost his hold on Mr. Clinton, could lose President Kim as well.


The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin-kook

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