[TODAY]Selig Harrison has it rightSelig Harrison, one of the most prominent American experts on Korea, sent me an e-mail over the weekend that included the following: “I have been proposing for the last two months that a visit by George H. W. Bush, the president’s father, is the best way to solve the crisis, since President Bush is not likely to go.” Mr. Harrison also mentioned that he had not heard anything about an invitation by North Korea to President Bush to visit Pyeongyang.
Korean, Japanese, and Chinese scholars have long thought so, but it seems that Mr. Harrison also agrees that North Korea is willing to accept a security guarantee in writing, instead of insisting on a non-aggression treaty requiring U.S. congressional approval. “Linkage of such a mutual no-attack declaration with denuclearization would be essential from the U.S. point of view.”
In a staring match, the one who blinks first loses. The United States and North Korea are engaged in a sort of staring match in which they are telling each other to blink first, knowing all too well that the other will refuse.
The United States is asking the North to declare its willingness to give up the nuclear program and the North is asking the United States to declare its peaceful intentions toward the Pyeongyang regime in a manner on which it can rely. The nuclear problem is going around in circles despite the anxiety and concern of South Korea and other neighboring countries.
At least the process and results of the recent war in Iraq had the effect of frightening North Korean leaders into accepting the three-way talks with China and the United States recently in Beijing. Those talks were held because of the efforts of China to humor Pyeongyang, but they are still significant as the first high-level talks between North Korea and the United States since last October.
It is reported that China, which is as wary of a nuclear-armed North Korea as South Korea and the United States are, once suspended energy assistance to the North in an effort to draw it into talks.
Of course, the Beijing talks had some shortcomings. The South Korean government came under attack from the public and the opposition party for failing to win a seat at the negotiating table. Putting it bluntly, President Roh Moo-hyun and his national security and foreign affairs team have invited the criticism they have received.
Mr. Roh had constantly claimed that the nuclear problem should and would be solved under the leadership of the South. The public understood the president’s words as an indirect wager that the South Korean government would be asked to join the Beijing talks. The public was misled.
The foreign minister went even a step further in stating directly that South Korea would join the three-way talks at a later stage. If South Korea is to “lead” in resolving the issue, it would have to participate in the talks at least before the concluding stage.
All possibility of this, however, was overturned last week. Ra Jong-yil, the national security adviser to the president, informed the United States that South Korea had no plans to attend the Beijing talks.
In a debate on the MBC network, President Roh said that he had from the beginning doubted that South Korea’s participation in the Beijing talks would help solve the nuclear problem. He even said that he had given a warning to Yoon Young-kwan, the foreign minister, not to go around advocating South Korea’s participation as he had been doing.
Considering North Korea’s persistence that the South must be excluded from any negotiations concerning its nuclear program, President Roh’s decision that it is better to give up any hopes of joining the party in Beijing is realistic enough.
But Mr. Roh erred by not clarifying this position from the beginning and by misleading the people with his fiction that South Korea would lead the negotiations on the nuclear problem. Away from the negotiating table, South Korea might have some influence on the solution, but it cannot play a leading role in drawing up a solution.
The Roh-Bush summit meeting is coming. Mr. Roh would do better to put aside all his unproductive ego and think about what he would demand of Mr. Bush.
I again quote my friend Mr. Harrison, “President Roh should persuade Bush on two points: First, that steps must be taken in parallel, and second, that the United States and/or South Korea should take the lead in negotiating a six-power denuclearization agreement in which the external powers (the U.S., Russia, China, Japan) would agree not to use or deploy nuclear weapons in Korea, and North and South Korea would pledge not to manufacture nuclear weapons.”
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie