[GLOBAL EYE]Getting straight with Uncle Sam"Talk with Pyeongyang but avoid negotiations," goes the U.S. position on the North Korean nuclear issue. "Although mediating between Washington and Pyeongyang may not be workable, resolving this issue under South Korea's initiative" is the basic stance of the Korean government.
"Talk" instead of "negotiations," and "initiative" trumping "mediation": These cryptic terms only foster further confusion. It is hard enough to grasp the sprouting rhetoric between allies, let alone the true intentions behind the string of what seem to be daily announcements from Kim Jong-il's regime. Under circumstances where even basic communications seem to be stalling, the Seoul government's knee-jerk issuance of "cooperation" as the best prescription seems a bit contrived.
In truth, the clamor behind resolving the Korean and U.S. differences stems from the Bush administration's lack of trust of Kim Dae-jung's North Korean engagement policy. The complications in finding common ground that surfaced two years ago during President Kim's visit to the White House have gone unaddressed. The wound is now festering with the onset of a nuclear crisis. Some draw attention to the inevitability of dealing with a situation where the interests of the Korean people diverge from the national interests of the United States. But the real epicenter of trouble between Korea and the United States lies in the difficulty of hitting the same chord when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
Those with experience in negotiating with Pyeongyang say that the enigmatic regime still seems to be struggling to understand the true positions of Seoul and Washington. This shows that the North is still callow and clumsy in assessing the issue from the opponent's point of view and analyzing the situation that way. But backtracking on its nuclear freeze, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reasserting its right to test-fire missiles seem to be a shrewd calculation aimed at capitalizing on the tied hands of an increasingly divided Washington, preoccupied with a war in Iraq.
Attempts to mend relations between Korea and the United States should rather start from determining how well the two countries understand each other's positions. The recent discord between the two allies is a result of an inability to understand each other's positions and changes in those positions. Given these deficiencies, perhaps it is only expected that the United States feels stifled when Korea fails to explain in a palatable manner the intentions and behavior of the North, whose cultural kinship and history of pulling off inter-Korean achievements have always been emphasized by its officials. If South Korea finds it too difficult to convey in a substantive manner the true nature of the reclusive regime, Seoul's desire to position itself at the center of efforts to resolve the issue seems far-fetched.
President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's envoy will soon visit Washington. His priority should be to explain our government's view of the North clearly before he addresses anti-American sentiment or clear the fog in American perceptions of Roh Moo-hyun. If that explanation is not based on evidence and logic, it may prove difficult to invite the United States to follow our lead in resolving the North Korea problem. His task is not to just convey ear-pleasing diplomatic jargon. Korea's positions on why anti-American sentiment began and where it is now must be put forward clearly, and he must explain why Seoul cannot easily agree to a policy of containing North Korea. His biggest task is to get the two countries thinking in tandem. The success of the envoy's mission will be measured by whether he can get Washington to end its internal discord and find common cause with South Korea.
But there seem to be more problems understanding Washington's perceptions in Seoul than in Pyeongyang.
by Kil Jeong-woo
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.