[TODAY] Waiting Won't Help the North's Position

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[TODAY] Waiting Won't Help the North's Position

A high-ranking government source with a thorough knowledge of the sunshine policy described chairman Kim Jong-il of North Korea as a man who says one thing and does the opposite. This official talked frankly about the frustration that the government feels about the lagging development of inter-Korean dialogue.

President Kim Dae-jung, waiting forlornly for Kim Jong-il's reciprocal visit to Seoul, is becoming a figure of pity. He gives the impression that he is betting almost everything connected with both inter-Korean relations and domestic politics on Kim's return visit. It is a pity that even avid supporters of the sunshine policy, in private conversations, say they want the president to stop begging Kim Jong-il to travel here and start working on new, stronger policies.

President Kim is confident that the North Korean leader will visit Seoul because of the promise he got from Chairman Kim in June 2000 in Pyeongyang. But things have changed dramatically since the change of government in the United States. The critical statements by U.S. President George W. Bush in March in Washington about North Korea must have seemed to Chairman Kim as a shift in U.S. policy aimed at crushing his country.

Nonetheless, North Korea is not considering a complete rejection of dialogue with the South or with the United States. It knows that unless relations with the United States improve, it cannot get the foreign capital it needs to revive its economy. North Korea is, in effect, sabotaging North-South dialogue while waiting for a further change in the Bush administration's attitude that will probably not come.

North Korea resumed ministerial talks with Seoul in September after a six month hiatus. It appears, though, that the intention was not to make real progress but just to keep the flame alive. Its unilateral postponement of the fourth round of family reunions and its insistence on changing the venue for the next ministerial talks to Mount Geumgang are testimony to the North's lackluster attitude toward resuming dialogue with the South. As a pretext to break the promise it made publicly, it blames Seoul's counterterrorism alert.

Kim Jong-il must have felt uncomfortable when the leaders of the four big powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula repeatedly pressed North Korea to resume dialogue with Seoul at the APEC summit in Shanghai. The North's announcement that family reunions were canceled reflected a bit of the alienation a person feels when he is not invited to a party.

But what really unnerved North Korea was the news conference President Bush held with Asian reporters on Oct. 16. Mr. Bush noted that he had said in June that his administration was ready to meet anywhere, anytime with Pyeongyang. He also pressed the North to make clear that it supports peace, to redeploy some of its massed conventional forces from the DMZ area and to promise that it would stop exporting weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Bush also hit Mr. Kim where he is weakest when he said there are good reasons why North Koreans are starving. The statement showed that Mr. Bush has not changed his basic belief that Chairman Kim is a dictator who cannot feed his own people. From Mr. Kim's perspective, Mr. Bush's understanding of North Korea has not developed since March.

But Kim Jong-il takes out his frustration with the Bush administration on Seoul. If he wants to put pressure on the United States, sunshine policy supporters say, he should strengthen inter-Korean relations and use those better relations as a card in negotiations with the United States. The confidence that Chairman Kim may have gained from strengthening ties with China and Russia does not seem to have helped its policy toward the United States.

A look at U.S. pronouncements since June leads to the following summary of Washington's position: no preconditions for a dialogue, in which the United States will raise the subjects of a pullback of conventional forces and methods to monitor and verify any agreement on the North's nuclear and missile programs. Washington asks for no reciprocity.

It is time for Chairman Kim to decide. The United States is in no hurry. And because of its war against terrorism, its North Korea policies are lower in priority. If North Korea continues to say one thing to the South and do something else, it only increases the mistrust of the international community, including the United States.

If Chairman Kim wants a country whose citizens are properly fed and clothed, it should respond to the nudges by Russia and China. Waiting will not change the situation in the United States.

And in Seoul, President Kim should wait calmly until Kim Jong-il decides to visit.

The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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