[OUTLOOK] The Center-Right Will Drive U.S. Policy

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[OUTLOOK] The Center-Right Will Drive U.S. Policy

We Should Not Be Overoptimistic About Harmonizing U.S.-ROK Views on North Korea

Facing the upcoming visit of North Korean National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il to Seoul, Korea and the United States are busy fine-tuning their policies toward the North.

Lee Joung-binn, foreign minister, and Lim Dong-won, head of the National Intelligence Service, made consecutive visits to the United States and President Kim Dae-jung confirmed that he will visit Washington in early March.

Despite efforts by Korea and the United States, it is yet uncertain what will happen to the U.S.-Korea alliance as the two countries try to come to grips with North Korea policy. There are three views: optimism, pessimism and watchful waiting.

The basis of the argument for watchful waiting is that there is a limit to discussing the direction of Mr. Bush's North Korea policy because the administration is new and working-level officials are not yet in place.

Continued success of the U.S.-Korea alliance on Korean Peninsula policy in the future depends on how effectively the differences and common points of the perceptions of President Kim Dae-jung, Kim Jong-il, and the moderates of the U. S. Republican party can be coordinated. Therefore, it is important for us to understand the perceptions and sentiments of the Republican moderates, who will initiate the direction of North Korea policy even before the new security and foreign affairs advisory group begins its policy deliberations.

At the upcoming U.S.-Korea summit, we should not attempt to push Mr. Bush by arguing that there already has been a successful outcome in North-South Korean relations. Instead, we should analyze the principles of the Bush administration's North Korea policy in great depth.

Ahead of the summit, our government is projecting strong optimism about the future direction of the U.S.-Korean alliance. Such optimism is based on the forecast that the Bush administration will uphold the fundamentals of its predecessor's policies. That optimism should be reexamined carefully. New U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, the writer of a report which reflected moderate Republicans' perceptions of North Korea policy, gave a B grade to the Perry report, the core of the Clinton administration's North Korea policy, during his visit to Korea last year.

Mr. Armitage did not give a C to the Perry report because he fundamentally agrees with its two-step approach of diplomatic engagement with the threat of military pressure if the DPRK refuses to engage meaningfully. He did not give an A because the report only focused on the first step, engagement. It not only failed to prepare the second, fallback measures, but reflected no intention to set up such measures, according to Mr. Armitage's evaluation. He said the importance of reciprocity and transparency was not stressed appropriately in the first steps outlined by Mr. Perry.

Therefore, the Bush administration is likely to turn to the second step, military restraint, if U.S. ideas of DPRK reciprocity and transparency do not follow from diplomatic negotiations with the North, and will do so faster than the Clinton administration would have done. Such steps would also trouble the U.S.- Korea coalition.

In order to avoid such a difficulty, the upcoming U.S.-Korea summit should contribute to establishing principles of reciprocity and transparency which the North should respect in its policies toward the United States and Korea, in addition to agreement on general policy toward the North.

Korea and the United States currently have different points of view toward the North. This leads to pessimistic evaluations that the two countries will have a hard time establishing standards of reciprocity and transparency to be used in the U.S.-North Korea nuclear weapons and missile negotiations and in the North-South negotiations on detente and peaceful cooperation.

In order to avoid such difficulties, the North should adopt future-oriented policies toward the United States and Seoul in which the differences between Seoul and Washington can be minimized. The upcoming U.S.-Korea summit should also discuss the establishment of international cooperation to support fully such changes that might take place in North Korea.

The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

by Ha Young-sun

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