[TODAY]U.S. line on defectors has catches

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[TODAY]U.S. line on defectors has catches

It is truly encouraging to think that the efforts of the U.S. Congress to help the North Korean asylum-seekers might have a positive effect on the North-South Korea relations and on China. The U.S. legislators are trying to amend the act on political asylum and immigration to accept North Korean asylum-seekers in the country. However, the chances for the legislators' humanitarian dream coming true look slim with the U.S. administration restating its position that no political asylum requests made outside the United States are valid.

Whether their efforts succeed or not, the U.S. politicians' specific interests in the problem will help bring the ever-increasing North Korean refugees problem into the international spotlight and with that, the overall situation of human rights in North Korea will be brought to attention as well. This could mean that China would mind how it deals with the fleeing North Koreans who use what seems to be the only escape route available to them, that is, the foreign diplomatic compounds in China, to reach freedom. No more violations of the diplomatic code by China, such as breaking into embassies to forcefully drag out North Koreans inside and assault diplomats in the process are urged.

In this, the U.S. politicians' movement to support the North Korean refugees deserves applause. However, as every rose has its thorn, the generosity from these politicians has, perhaps, some unintended but serious catches. Take the case of Representative Mark Kirk, a Republican of Illinois, who is calling for the status of refugees under temporary protection to be given to fleeing North Koreans in order to permit their settling in the United States. A House Foreign Relations Committee member who has visited Pyeongyang, Mr. Kirk is a hardliner who believes the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework to freeze North Korea' nuclear program signed in Geneva in 1994 is a product of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's partisan politics and that it should be modified.

A hard-line representative from the Republican Party like Mr. Kirk is most likely more interested in exposing the incompetence and cruelty of a North Korean regime that lets its people starve to death in the process of discussing the North Korean asylum-seekers issue.

Representative Kirk and his colleagues come from the starting point that Kim Jong-il's North Korean government is an immoral one that deserves to be eliminated. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and other members of the Democratic Party who seem to be acting more on a purely humanitarian basis could well find out that they and the Republicans, who expect something extra from helping the fleeing North Koreans, are heading in the same direction but not toward the same goal.

With things as they are in the U.S. Congress, special envoy Jack Pritchard's visit to Pyeongyang and its success in resuming the stalled North-U.S. talks could put pressure on the Bush administration from Congress to cover the human rights issue in the talks with North Korea. That would mean instant breakdown of the North-U. S. talks the moment they resume.

The proposal to set up a North Korean refugee camp or a temporary facility in an area located either on the borders with North Korea or with Mongolia may have even a bigger catch.

China would be sure to oppose such a proposal. Therefore, slim as the chances for such settlements to be built at all, they would probably be located on Mongolian land near the Chinese border. There are faint talks about Mongolia accepting such a proposal for a North Korean refugee camp, but it is too early to make any assumptions.

So, what is the catch in the idea of the camps? There is speculation from North Korea experts in Washington that Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy secretary of defense and one of the major champions of the Bush administration's hard-line North Korea policies, is going over a plan to train forces that could replace the Kim Jong-il regime in these refugee camps. It seems that the Republicans and Mr. Wolfowitz are of one mind. Mr. Wolfowitz is a representative believer in the need to topple the North Korean regime.

We are truly grateful for the humanitarian generosity to help the North Korean refugees. However, accepting a small number of North Korean asylum-seekers in the United States and stowing a few more in refugee camps in Mongolia would not help the North Korean problem.

The United States should acknowledge the present North Korean government as its partner in talks and show sincere efforts to resume talks with Pyeongyang, even while helping the poor North Korean asylum-seekers.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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