[TODAY]The North looking for a way outThe New York Times' report that the Bush administration has decided to nullify the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea was hasty. The article quoted those present at a National Security Council meeting, but President Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a broadcast interview Sunday that the problem could be solved through diplomacy.
Ms. Rice said that the reality of North Korea's necessity to avoid economic isolation is a leverage to pressure Pyeongyang; the North cannot escape that isolation while brandishing nuclear weapons. Her remarks reflect the reality that the North cannot pursue nuclear development in violation of the Geneva agreement as long as it needs help from the international community.
The other means of pressure she was referring to involve collective international pressure: There are many other countries that feel threatened by North Korean nuclear arms. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the same thing the same day. Unilateral as President Bush might be, he would not single-handedly make a decision involving security in Northeast Asia before consulting his allies, especially when meetings with leaders of South Korea, China, Japan and Russia are scheduled late this week.
It is noteworthy that a reaction symmetrical with Ms. Rice's hopes to solve the problem diplomatically has also come from Pyeongyang. Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's head of state, said that North Korea was "considering the recent situation as serious" when he met with South Korea's unification minister, Jeong Se-hyun. "If the United States is ready to stop its policies hostile toward North Korea, we are ready to solve security problems through talks," Mr. Kim said. I wouldn't be surprised if these messages from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are relayed via Seoul to President Bush.
What did President Bush mean by saying he could disarm North Korea peacefully? He said that North Korea's admission of a nuclear program was a chance for Northeast Asian countries to persuade Kim Jong-il to disarm and to prevent nuclear proliferation.
It is taken that by "disarmament," Mr. Bush meant the halt of production, deployment and exports of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons and missiles. Mr. Bush strongly reaffirmed the U.S. position at the most appropriate time. His words seem to be a warning that new nuclear negotiations with North Korea should go beyond the boundaries of the 1994 Agreed Framework and designate all weapons of mass destruction as their object. This obviously should be so. North Korea probably had prepared for that when it admitted that it had a nuclear weapons program.
North Korea might even feel carefree after having revealed its nuclear secret. It now has nothing more to hide. Even without Ms. Rice's statement, we know that North Korea is yearning to improve its relations with the United States, as well as with Japan, for economic reasons. An obstacle was the Bush administration's deep distrust of North Korea. North Korea might have made the shocking admission to stimulate a major breakthrough in the North Korea-U.S. dialogue.
The turning point in this situation will be the APEC summit meeting in Mexico when Mr. Bush will meet with the heads of South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. A heavy burden is on the shoulders of President Kim Dae-jung. For that, Mr. Kim should get the suprapartisan support of the National Assembly and the public. It is better to leave aside the issue of hiding information on North Korean nuclear arms from the public for now. If the 1994 Agreed Framework is nullified, so are plans to build two light-water reactors in North Korea. With the light-water reactor plan gone and the U.S. fuel oil shipments ceased, North Korea could even become compelled to speed its nuclear development. If North Korea resumes its nuclear program, it could have a few nuclear warheads ready in a few months. That would further complicate the progress of the North-South dialogue. For Korea, a bad peace is better than a good war.
The key to the problem is for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Seoul and the four major powers must cooperate. Should the United States give up its hostile policies toward the North and the North give up its nuclear weapons, the 1994 Framework Agreement could live on in a revised form and the peaceful disarmament of North Korea that Mr. Bush talked about could become a reality.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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