[TODAY]A compromise on oil shipments

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[TODAY]A compromise on oil shipments

All unarmed prophets are destroyed, Machiavelli wrote. Five centuries after the era of the Italian statesman, a politician is following his advice as never before, and his name is George W. Bush, president of the United States. In his quest to save the world from weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush uses force to threaten Iraq and the strongest possible measures other than force to pressure North Korea.

Cassandra, the princess of Troy in Homer's epic poem "The Iliad," was given the gift of seeing the future by Apollo, the sun god. However, smitten by the fact that Cassandra wouldn't return his love for her, Apollo took his revenge by cursing her so that no one would believe her prophecies. Now "Cassandra" is in our vocabulary to describe a prophet whom no one believes.

If Mr. Bush is Machiavelli's faithful student on the North Korea issue, then President Kim Dae-jung is playing Cassandra to him. President Kim asserts that North Korea's heart is set on securing the safety of the regime through dialogue with the United States and not on developing nuclear weapons, but Mr. Bush won't believe him. A ship loaded with 43,000 metric tons of crude oil is making its way northward to North Korea, but it is possible that the United States will make the ship turn around if Pyeongyang doesn't announce that it is giving up its nuclear program. South Korea says crude oil must continue to be delivered if the 1994 Agreed Framework is to be salvaged. The distance between South Korea and the United States on the North Korea issue is the distance between Cassandra and Machiavelli.

Having failed to reach an agreement on the crude oil problem in a meeting held in Tokyo last week, South Korea, Japan and the United States have now passed the buck to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization's executive board, which meets today in New York. The cost of the light water reactors being built north of Sinpo city on North Korea's east coast is $4.6 billion, 70 percent of which is to be paid by South Korea. Japan has agreed to pay a fixed sum of $1 billion and the European Union pays 15 million to 20 euros a year. The United States provides North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of crude oil needed for heating and electricity every year, the equivalent of some $ 80 to 90 million. South Korea, Japan and the United States have equal voting rights but the United States is first among equals.

If the United States wants to halt crude oil deliveries, it will not be easy for South Korea and Japan to dissuade Washington. Mr. Bush is confident in dealing with the rogue states after the sweeping victory of his party in the recent elections, but a compromise is not impossible.

After this 43,000-metric-ton shipment of crude oil on its way to North Korea come two more, one each in December and January. Providing this shipment with the warning that the December delivery will be canceled absent believable promises that the North is canceling its nuclear program would be a compromise that all could accept.

North Korea rashly confessed its nuclear program and seems now nervous about the consequences. What a North Korean official told a U.S. envoy in September could be interpreted as a renunciation of the 1994 Agreed Framework. But when the same official met two private American visitors last week, he told them that the agreement was "hanging by a thread." In other words, North Korea has backed off.

If the United States declares that it is ending its crude oil aid permanently, North Korea will be obliged, whether it wants or not, to declare that the 1994 agreement is dead. It probably would then either resume or pretend to resume its nuclear development program in Yeongbyeon. The Korean Peninsula would once again be in a state of crisis.

Forty-three thousand tons of crude oil costs about $ 6.9 million in the international market. That is not a huge amount of money, but the significance of whether this shipment reaches North Korea or not is huge. That is why even if the final decision is "no," it must be made clear that this does not mean the nullification of the 1994 Agreed Framework and that supplies could be resumed if North Korea reacts properly.

The signs are all there. North Korea wants to talk with the United States. One thing, however, must be kept in mind. North Korea's willingness to improve relations with the United States is far more because of its desperation to maintain its regime rather than for economic reasons.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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