[TODAY] In the Aftermath of Washington Summit

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[TODAY] In the Aftermath of Washington Summit

In a swift reflex action to squash the bewildering evaluations of the outcome of his Washington summit, President Kim Dae-jung presented an extraordinary evaluation standard: separately grading the outcome on North-South relations, and on North Korea-U.S. relations. All Mr. Kim said about Pyongyang-Washington relations in his arrival statement upon returning to Seoul was: "I felt further discussions are necessary in the future." This showed he had nothing to report.

In marked contrast, he gave lengthy explanations of the results of his discussions with President George Bush on North-South relations. The president pointed to Mr. Bush's recognition of the results achieved by the sunshine policy and Seoul's leading role in North-South issues and also his support for a second summit with the North. Considering the Bush camp's hardline perceptions of North Korea that had distressed the South Koreans supporting the sunshine policy, and the string of criticisms the U.S. foreign affairs and security officials have aired against the North since the new administration's inception, Mr. Bush's clear indication of support in principle for the sunshine policy is no small outcome. Another significant achievement was the reaffirmation of support for and compliance with the Geneva nuclear agreement.

The story changes when we reflect on what had been the fundamental purpose of Mr. Kim's Washington visit. To make a long story short, Mr. Kim went to persuade George Bush. He went to convince Mr. Bush to continue the Clinton administration's policy of engagement and negotiations with North Korea because the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il wishes to improve relations not only with the South but also with the United States, and to restore, reform and open the North Korean economy.

In this, Mr. Kim failed. To the contrary, Mr. Bush advised Mr. Kim to maintain a pragmatic and realistic approach in negotiating with North Korea. During their first encounter, the two leaders managed to agree not to agree on the issue of trusting the North Korean leader. Mr. Kim's misfortune did not end there, for he had to accept Mr. Bush's adamant demand that he recognize the necessity of applying the principle of reciprocity in negotiating with North Korea. Mr. Kim proposed a flexible "comprehensive reciprocity" to replace the strict U.S. reciprocity. But even the application of a comprehensive reciprocity would restrict his negotiations with North Korea.

Upon grasping the atmosphere in Washington, Mr. Kim had to abandon his dream of issuing a peace declaration in Seoul. The Nobel Peace Prize that he won carries the expectation that steps toward peace on the Korean Penin-sula would continue. A peace declaration would fulfill such expectations. But any measures associated with peace on the Korean Peninsula are directly linked with the status of the U.S. forces in Korea. Realistically, it is impossible for South Korea to take any measures without U.S. consent.

So where did Mr. Kim's reckoning go awry? He underestimated the U.S. lack of preparation. The confusion U.S. officials demonstrated during his stay in Washington was nothing short of a spectacle. The secretary of state's remarks on North Korea contradicted those the national security adviser issued on the same day. The former also vacillated be-tween a moderate and hawkish stance during the three days of Mr. Kim's visit. In short, Mr. Kim became a victim of the initial struggle over a North Korea policy line within the Bush camp.

Mr. Kim also failed to realize just how deeply the distrust of North Korea is ingrained in Mr. Bush. The Roh Tae-woo government in 1991 made a non-nuclear declaration, then reached a denuclearization accord with North Korea in early 1992. In response, the first President Bush withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea. But as if to flout the accord, North Korea was soon discovered to be continuing with nuclear development, overwhelming then-President Bush with a sense of betrayal. His distrust of North Korea would have been transmitted to his son as an unforgettable political "childhood experience." And so, Mr. Kim, who had gone to Washington to eliminate stumbling blocks to the Korean peace process, brought home greater barriers: reciprocity, verification and transparency.

This is not to say that the Washington summit was a failure and that the sunshine policy is in danger of running aground. Mr. Bush's rude remarks on North Korea and those of his security team should be viewed as unrefined fragments of thought. Not all of them will be reflected in the North Korea policy to be fixed in the future. Consultations between South Korea and the United States, which will continue until U.S. policy is established, have only just begun. As we keep a keen watch on whether the Bush administration will ultimately decide to sustain the policy of engagement, we also have to remain alert against North Korea's oversensitive reaction. We only hope its abrupt decision to cancel the North-South ministerial talks is not a sign of such a reaction.

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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