[OUTLOOK]Make Seoul a necessary playerThe Beijing three-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear problem ended after the North admitted having nuclear weapons and attracted the world’s attention.
Although South Korea was excluded from the talks, North Korea’s return to the negotiating table was considered a big event. With the support of China, the United States, triumphant from the victory in its war in Iraq, seemed to have accepted the request from the North for the U.S.-North talks to see if the North had any intention of accepting its demand that the North abandon its nuclear program.
The Beijing talks were seen as the last chance for the North to extract rewards from the United States for not crossing over the American “red lines” such as nuclear reprocessing and testing of long-range missiles.
The sunshine policy pursued by the Kim Dae-jung administration for the past five years was a means, not an end, for peaceful coexistence of the two Koreas. The policy did make some progress in changing the Koreas’ confrontational relationship into a cooperative one, but it did change the means into the end. It also was implemented hastily and resulted in a lot of trial and error.
The administration had some vague expectations, and miscalculated that it should not provoke the North Korean leadership in order to make progress. As a result, most of its foreign policies ended up squandering the profit, instead of conserving it, not only in North Korea relations but also in other bilateral and multilateral international relations.
The North Korean nuclear problem has many aspects. From the aspect of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it is clearly an international issue in politics and international law. As we saw in the case of the nuclear programs in India and Pakistan, the North Korean nuclear problem should be dealt with by the United Nations Security Council whether North Korea is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or not.
Unlike the Iraqi problem, international society, including the five standing members of the Security Council, agreed on the necessity of deterring North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons. In that context, the Kim government had a unique opportunity to grab diplomatic profits by coordinating the multilateral interest in the UN to the benefit of our national interests. But because it was hostage to the sunshine policy, the Kim administration hesitated to seize the chance to gain those rewards.
Another critical aspect of the North Korean nuclear problem is that it is essentially a North-South problem. The 1991 North-South Basic Agreement and the 1992 Joint Declaration of Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula were significant in providing a basic framework for the peaceful coexistence of North and South Korea. But North Korea’s attempts to extract highly-enriched uranium and reprocess its spent nuclear fuel rods are clear violations of the declaration. This attitude showed that the North’s regime could even destroy the foundation for peaceful coexistence.
To react to North Korea’s probable nullification of the nuclear-free declaration, we must take meticulous political, legal, and diplomatic actions aimed at North Korea and at the international community. Because a nuclear-free peninsula is a matter of keen interest to the surrounding four big powers and other countries, the more Pyeongyang poses a threat to a nuclear-free peninsula, the more Seoul has diplomatic leverage in reacting to that threat. Therefore, we should make use of this opportunity to develop a potential diplomatic program and use it in dealing with North Korea, the four big powers surrounding Korea, and international society.
Regardless of the future course of the Beijing talks, Pyeongyang will probably continue to insist on the exclusion of Seoul because since the 1994 Geneva Agreement, the North has persistently taken the position that as far as the nuclear problem is concerned, it will talk about it only with the United States.
Even if the talks continue, South Korea will be repeatedly excluded from the talks, or even if the talks develop into multilateral talks and Seoul participates in them, the actual negotiations will go on behind the scenes between the North and the United States.
Just as the Clinton administration rushed to conclude the 1994 Geneva Agreement before the scheduled mid-term U.S. congressional elections, the Bush administration is also likely to be affected by domestic politics.
To prevent a repetition of a situation where we are left out of the negotiations ― and our interests are not fully reflected ― we ourselves should create a situation where our participation in further negotiations is unavoidable.
Wise diplomacy is urgently required to secure our role and rights to speak out in the process of resolving the problems on the Korean Peninsula.
* The writer is a former vice foreign minister.
by Lee Si-young