[OUTLOOK]Now the policy-making begins

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[OUTLOOK]Now the policy-making begins

U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his intention to firm up the U.S.-South Korean alliance and support Seoul's engagement policy toward the North. It appears that the rupture in relations between the South and the United States created by Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" comment about the North in his recent address to the U.S. Congress has been mended - at least for the time being.

Yet the real process of resolving problems is only beginning now. In order to reinforce the coalition between Seoul and Washington and ease internal discord in the South, Seoul should rethink its North Korea policy.

The conflicts, internally and bilaterally with the United States, arose because the Kim Dae-jung administration focused too much on the mechanics of its sunshine policy of engaging the North. It should have given at least equal attention to the questions of openness and reform in the North and the establishment of a peaceful political backdrop on the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul did not react carefully to Mr. Bush's stern warnings about the North, and Seoul's lackadaisical response amplified our internal strife and problems with the United States.

Ironically, the "axis of evil" remark and its aftermath provided, in fact, a good starting point for us to look at our North Korea policy and reassess our relations with Washington.

First, the government must learn that important diplomatic issues should never be sacrificed to political discord. The government should understand the complex meaning of "axis of evil" and align our goals and means of North Korea policy to them.

That "axis of evil" comment shows the Republican administration's sense of power and self-righteousness. Looking at the North as if it is time for an American religious crusade will hinder dialogue and negotiations and create tension on the peninsula. Seoul should make that criticism well known to Washington, but it should do so in the context of reinforcing its coalition with Washington to promote peace in the peninsula. Seoul should never call Pyeongyang an ally and Washington an enemy and fuel anti-American sentiment in the South.

Second, Mr. Bush's intention in calling the North part of an "axis of evil" was not to declare war against the North, considering the overall tone of the State of the Union address and the attitude U.S. officials showed after the speech. Mr. Bush indeed is trying to pressure the North to resume talks. Seoul should not overreact; it should persuade the North to begin talking.

Third, Mr. Bush has formulated new goals and is rallying Americans to a war against terror in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States will not give up its new national goals and global strategy no matter what criticism comes from Seoul. A realistic leader should plan to strengthen the coalition between Seoul and Washington with that in mind.

Fourth, Mr. Bush's understanding of the North, that the North Korean regime starves its people while arming itself with weapons of mass destruction, is not totally wrong. Instead of arguing about Mr. Bush's rhetoric, we should focus on the nature of the North Korean regime as a starting point to solve the problems on the peninsula.

Fifth, we must understand that North Korea's weapons of mass destruction that Mr. Bush mentioned in his State of the Union speech are also a matter that we must deal with as well as Washington. Until now, Washington took the lead in negotiating with Pyeongyang on this matter. The South Korean government must rid itself of the astoundingly unreasonable belief that Pyeongyang produced such weapons only to defend itself and to strengthen its negotiating hand with Washington.

According to the new U.S. global strategy, whether or not to address the problems caused by North Korea's weapons is no longer an issue. The real issue is when and how to address them. The answer depends on the North's attitude and willingness to compromise.

No matter how we label our North Korea policy in the future, the foundation of the policy should focus on two points.

One is aligning Seoul's policy with that of Washington to induce North Korea to give up its weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, in negotiations.

The other is to persuade the North that nuclear weapons and missiles are never going to be the way to maintain peace in the peninsula; reform and opening are the only solution.

Seoul should keep in mind these two goals in its diplomatic intercourse with Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow when implementing a revised and better-coordinated North Korea policy.


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The writer is a professor of poltical science at Kookmin University.

by Kim Young-jak

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