[OUTLOOK]U.S., North misread each other

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[OUTLOOK]U.S., North misread each other

North Korea has said it will reopen its nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon. In early October, the North told a U.S. envoy that it had continued its nuclear weapons program in the hope of drawing the United States back to the negotiating table for a second nuclear agreement to replace the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. Declining the invitation, the Bush administration said dialogue can come only after North Korea has provided proof that it is dismantling its nuclear program. Pyeongyang offered a second gesture of willingness to engage by proposing a nonaggression pact. The United States responded by halting crude oil shipments to the North.

As its third card, North Korea has pulled out the reactivation of the Yeongbyeon nuclear facilities. In order to read the significance of this card, we must analyze the announcement from North Korea. Pyeongyang has carefully withdrawn its first card with the following words. "As for the 'admission to a nuclear development program,' it was an arbitrary expression by the special envoy of the U.S. president who came here in early October, and we do not feel the need to comment upon it."

This is a clear change from the statement made in early November by the same spokesman to reject the U.S. proposal of "proof-then-talk." "If there weren't such hostilities between North Korea and the United States, why would our country, in such times of economic hardship, spend so much money to reinforce our defense abilities and make special weapons?"

North Korea has apparently decided that it needs a more threatening card to play to engage the United States, which responded "dismantle first, dialogue next" to its first card, the admission of a nuclear program. Such a demand by the United States is, to borrow the North Koreans' expression, asking North Korea to bare and disarm itself so that it can devour it. Now North Korea is trying to lure the United States into the negotiation of a second Geneva Agreement by using a desperate, risky tactic.

North Koreans believe, as a newspaper there said, that "the nuclear crisis in present-day Korea is substantially no different from the nuclear crisis in the 1990s in that it is the product of an exhaustive policy of hostility against North Korea." North Korea tried to make a fundamental declaration of its position, such as its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to pressure the United States into adopting a "carrot" policy.

North Korea may have decided that the United States will not try to deal with two countries of the "axis of evil," Iraq and North Korea, at the same time and that it has a certain amount of time and breathing space for brinkmanship diplomacy with the United States.

The seriousness of the situation, however, is that North Korea sees the Bush administration's North Korea policies as an extension of the "hostile policies against North Korea" that it had read in the 1990s situation. If the United States' North Korea policies in the past had been formed in the framework of an East Asian order managed by the United States, a world security order led by the United States and a non-proliferation policy, the Bush administration's policies toward North Korea are in the framework of a potential second-stage war against terrorism based on the post-Sept. 11 world view.

The more North Korea leans on its understanding of the 1990s and pursues the same policy that it did a decade ago, the more the United States will stiffen its position on "dismantle first, dialogue next" and lean toward the possibility of mobilizing diplomatic, economic and political countermeasures.

There is a real danger here that both sides will misread the other.

North Korea is a country based on unique leadership, a military-first policy and a self-supporting economic system. Therefore, it can misread American initiatives. A specific example is that any political war against the North under one-man rule would be taken more seriously than a military attack by Pyeongyang.

Should any misperceptions rise on the part of the United States in the process of dealing with North Korea's third bid for negotiations, it would mean not a second Geneva Agreement but a second nuclear crisis. The only way to overcome such a difficulty is for North Korea to take off its nuclear garments and set out on a new course of asking for support guaranteed by the international community in its attempt to get security and prosperity for its system.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University.

by Ha Young-sun

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