[OUTLOOK]Summit likely to spur momentumBecause both men have such interesting hairstyles and eccentric manners, something great was to be expected from the meeting between Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korea's Kim Jong-il. And when I saw only Kang Seuk-ju, the chief of the first division of the North Korean Foreign Ministry present along with the translator, I knew indeed that this was going to be something. Mr. Kang is known to be a practical and international-minded moderate.
The meeting lasted only two and a half hours but yielded amazing results. Mr. Kim apologized for the abduction by North Korean agents of Japanese citizens. Until the meeting, North Korea had denied having done any such thing, calling Japan's allegations "an unbearable insult" to its honor.
Mr. Koizumi accepted Mr. Kim's apology and the two agreed on negotiations for the establishment of diplomatic ties. Two men with strong characters and equal determination secured a huge diplomatic achievement.
Mr. Koizumi now faces the political task of soothing the anger Japan feels over the confirmation that eight of the kidnapped Japanese are dead. He is criticized by some for having agreed to establish relations with North Korea after such a simple apology. The benefits of the Pyeongyang Declaration for Japan are uncertain, to say the least.
Should relations between North Korea and Japan turn from contention to cooperation, there would be no more Japanese being kidnapped or North Korean "mystery ships" appearing in Japanese waters. For this, Japan will have to give billions of dollars in financial aid to North Korea in the name of economic cooperation.
It is expected that the Pyeongyang Declaration will have a positive influence on North Korea-U.S. relations and the stability of Northeast Asia. In his news conference in Pyeongyang, Prime Minister Koizumi showed a strong desire to take on a leading role in Northeast Asian security by contributing to the peace-building process. Thanks to that initiative, Mr. Kim announced that North Korea would indefinitely extend the missile testing freeze. On nuclear weapons, Mr. Kim only mentioned that he would abide by the international agreement perhaps because he sees the United States as the main counterpart in the issue. Mr. Kim sent out a love call to the United States through his meeting with the Japanese prime minister and the Pyeongyang Declaration. He asked Mr. Koizumi to deliver a message to the United States that North Korea is leaving open the door for dialogue.
The timing of the North Korea-Japan summit couldn't have been more significant. While the United States is preparing for an attack on Iraq, North Korea wonders if it might be next.
North Korea has provided U.S. President George W. Bush with a reason to step down from his hard-line stance, taking an important step on improving its relations with Japan and also declaring that it would extend its missile testing freeze, one of the United States' major concerns.
North Korea's relations with the outside world will develop in two ways after the Pyeongyang Declaration. The North will begin negotiations for establishing diplomatic relations with Japan. It is expected that there will be considerable travail over the amount of financial aid that Japan is to provide North Korea. The demand from the Japanese public to clarify what has happened to the kidnapped Japanese and why some of them are dead could also pose difficulties for the negotiations. This is where Prime Minister Koizumi's political capabilities are needed.
North Korea could also be stimulated by the Pyeongyang Declaration and perhaps with the active mediation of Prime Minister Koizumi to resume talks with the United States sooner than expected. Should the visit to North Korea by a special envoy from the United States that was put off due to the naval skirmish between North and South last June take place, there is a possibility that Mr. Kim would accept the U.S. demand that North Korea allow its nuclear facilities to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency before next spring. This is a newly changed North Korea that has acknowledged and apologized for its terrorist actions against civilians in its need to seek practical benefits.
The Pyeongyang Declaration has provided momentum for the solution to the Korean Peninsula problem. Prime Minister Koizumi had his own political reasons and Mr. Kim had his economic and strategic reasons. However, if the results are the encouragement of cooperation between the North and South and the revision of the Bush administration's hard-line policies, then that is good enough.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie