Seoul's Turn to Reassure the U.S.It was predicted that the Bush administration would take a somewhat tougher stance in its policies regarding North Korea. The American attitude is even harsher than expected, as Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Lee Joung-binn and National Intelligence Service Director Lim Dong-won confirmed during their recent visit to the United States. On Wednesday, North Korea issued a warning, saying that if the Bush administration took a hard line against the North, Pyongyang would feel justified in breaking the Geneva agreement and its promise to halt missile tests.
We do not see Pyongyang's warning as just another empty threat. On top of the Bush administration's tougher conditions for improving relations with North Korea, the Americans did not respond to the North's request for discussions with the new national security team. Pyongyang appeared to be sending a test signal indicating that it is ready to talk with the Bush team even before its North Korea policy is solidified. However, when Washington still showed no interest in talking, the North seems to have felt that it should make clear the position it would take if the United States gets too tough. Washington could possibly interpreted the North's statement as a "goad" meant to test its reaction, which may just prompt the Americans to harden their attitude even more. Under the circumstances, it would seem wisest for North Korea to refrain from further tough talk and communicate its real intentions to the United States through diplomatic channels.
For its part, Washington needs to show that it is willing to consider what Pyongyang has to say. It will not do to allow this new era of rapprochement and cooperation to fade away, and, in any case, there is enough time to finalize decisions on North Korea policy after giving careful consideration to the North's intentions, as Pyongyang asks along with the warning.
Continuing confrontation between North Korea and the United States would have considerable negative influence on Seoul's North Korea policy. Our government must make every effort to put the American administration at ease by presenting our position clearly. Everyone will be watching with great interest to see whether President Kim Dae-jung will be able to nudge the United States toward a more flexible North Korea policy during his summit visit early next month.