[VIEWPOINT]Now can we start the dialogue?The Korean and American heads of state have agreed to find a way to solve the ongoing problem of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and missiles through dialogue with the North. For the time being, tension on the Korean Peninsula, which had been raised by George W. Bush's "axis of evil" pronouncement, has subsided to normal levels.
The American president has heavily criticized Pyeongyang for its weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, saying that North Korea is a threat to world peace. Nevertheless, he showed a willingness to work for peace on the peninsula by his pledge to continue to support humanitarian aid for the starving population of the North. In order to ease anxiety on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, he stressed that neither Seoul nor the United States has any intention of attacking North Korea; both nations are only in a defensive mode, he said.
Since President Kim also views weapons of mass destruction and missiles as a threat to the South, he offered to talk with the United States about their differences in outlook.
When the two leaders visited the construction site of the Gyeongui Railroad line, they laid out more detailed ideas on how the North could cooperate in easing tensions. President Kim suggested that the North should connect a land route to boost traffic and ease tensions through dispersed family meetings, while Mr. Bush reaffirmed that the United States is ready for talks. He urged the North to contribute to a unified country through dialogue and trade.
The time has come for North Korea to answer those calls. While a global campaign against terrorism is in full swing and North Korea is still seen as a strong candidate for "terrorist of the month" honors, Pyeongyang has to understand the intentions of an American president who came as close as he could to the North's territory to make his pledge to talk with North Korea.
The United States considers weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists with horror, but believes that such a scenario is quite possible. The United States thinks that time is running out, and its deep concern gets deeper minute by minute.
Before the Sept. 11 incident, China and Russia opposed the unilateral military policies of the United States. Nevertheless, the events of last September have made them both suddenly switch their stance. Gone are the criticism and the confrontation. They have joined eagerly in the war against terror and both have started to think out strategies that would foster a constructive relationship with the United States. Libya has tried desperately to erase its name from the list of terrorism supporting countries, and as a result was not named as a member of the "axis of evil" club. If the North wants to prove that it is different from Iran and Iraq, it has to seize the opportunity that has been provided by President Kim. It is time to change the tactics of trying for economic gains as well as military goals through proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The situation has changed and so should their tactics.
The continuous criticism by President Bush bothers them, but if they think of it as nothing more than the way they criticize the United States, it should not be too much of a problem. Once both sides sit down at the negotiating table, there will be a way to find a solution that both sides can endorse.
In 1994, when the Korean Peninsula was facing a nuclear crisis, Washington and Pyeongyang resolved it through dialogue. North Korea halted its nuclear weapons development program, and the United States promised support for the construction of light-water nuclear power reactors which are difficult to use for producing weapons material. The 1998 Daepodong missile crisis was defused through dialogue and compromise. Sincere offers from South Korea and the United States to North Korea have opened a positive channel.
Pyeongyang should not try again to export missiles to the Middle East. This will only add fuel to the fire. North Korea needs to change its strategy toward the United States and South Korea. To ease tensions and arrive at a scheme for peaceful coexistence, military problems should be resolved through talks. Mutual coexistence can only begin with the start of negotiations.
The writer is a professor at the National Defense University.
by Han Yong-sub