[OUTLOOK]A crucial diplomatic test ahead

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[OUTLOOK]A crucial diplomatic test ahead

President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine" policy is going through a serious ordeal right now.

The wave of emotion that the historic inter-Korean summit meeting in June 2000 triggered is now nowhere to be seen. North Korea is being uncooperative and the public consensus about helping the North has ruptured. Along comes President Bush's State of the Union address, which placed North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq - suddenly, we are all struck by the fear of war regardless of the success or failure of our sunshine policy.

As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has observed, President Bush's aggressive rhetoric about North Korea does not mean that there will be immediate military action.

Not only is it impossible for the United States to engage in a war against North Korea, Iran and Iraq simultaneously, it is unlikely that North Korea would become a target without South Korea's consent. There is no need to go into a state of panic because of what Mr. Bush said.

However, we should still be alert. The possibility of a military conflict cannot be wholly erased should U.S.-South Korean relations weaken while U.S-North Korea relations worsen. President Kim's administration must carry on some active preventative diplomacy and keep the consequences of such an unpleasant scenario in mind.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the U.S.-South Korean summit meeting next Wednesday.

The important thing to remember about this summit meeting is that we don't need to ask the United States to assist us in our sunshine policy. Concessions may be the foundation of our North Korean policies, but the foundation that President Bush has chosen for his policy towards North Korea is strong retaliation against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Even if our president were a genius in diplomacy, it would be difficult for him to change President Bush's basic position toward North Korea. We have had two summit meetings to prove that.

In this case, it is wiser to clearly delineate the differences between the two governments and come up with a plan to overcome those differences. A diplomacy of face-saving words will merely gloss over the issue and further confuse the situation.

A straightforward attitude is not enough, though. We must have some cards to play at the negotiating table. That is why we need to concentrate more on getting North Korea to show its good faith in agreeing on the issues of nuclear facilities inspections, missile exports, and reductions of conventional military forces.

Sending a top-ranking special envoy to visit North Korea before Wednesday's summit meeting would not be a bad idea. Consider the purpose and significance of the June 2000 North-South agreement. Peace on the Korean Peninsula and unification depend first and foremost on inter-Korean cooperation. There has never been a more urgent time than now for the North and the South to come together and work out a common solution.

Another thing we must do is to put a halt to our own war of attrition, fretting about Mr. Bush's words. Mr. Bush could very likely have had things other than North Korea in his mind when he spoke those "axis of evil" words. He could have had the Enron scandal, the off-year election in November and the very big increases he wants in his defense and homeland security budgets in mind. Whatever he was thinking, we can be sure he knew what he was going to say. The "axis of evil" utterance was a carefully calculated speech on the part of the president of a country who needed to publicly announce the national and political interests of his country. There is no need for us to overreact to a calculated political speech.

What is even more detrimental to our position than toadyism is a divided toadyism. Our ruling party is appealing to the U.S. Democratic Party and the more liberal forces in Washington while the opposition party is allying itself with the Republicans and the hard-liners towards North Korea.

This is not the way we should set about to solve this present problem. It is at times like these that the ruling and opposition parties, liberals and conservatives, should show solidarity and work together for the betterment of the nation and the people.

There are things to disagree about and not to disagree about in foreign affairs. Affairs that concern the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula should transcend political strife and be the focus of serious nonpartisan efforts. Remember the tragedy that came about because of our diplomatic fallacy in facing an unfortunate confluence of external and internal strife in the late 19th century.


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The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University.

by Moon Chung-in

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