[TODAY]North slow to face world realityA month before the coalition led by the United States attacked Iraq, Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian prime minister, visited Bagdhad to persuade Saddam Hussein to open all facilities suspected of concealing weapons of mass destruction to the UN inspectors. Mr. Saddam, after listening to the Russian envoy’s entreaty, reportedly left the room without saying a word. He had thrown away his last chance to avoid an attack led by the United States.
What made Mr. Saddam so bold as to reject the last message of warning? With a military weakened by the economic sanctions imposed on his country after the Gulf War more than 10 years before, he could hardly have considered winning a war against the United States. During the decade following the war, the United States had undergone a revolution in information technology and in military affairs, the results of which were fully displayed to the entire world in its actions in Afghanistan.
The Middle East experts that I met in Jordan and Russia concluded that Mr. Saddam had been surrounded and blinded by a “curtain of men” who caused Mr. Saddam to underestimate the determination of the administration of President Geroge W. Bush to remove him as head of the Iraqi state. The core of the Bush administration’s foreign affairs and national security team largely consisted of the same people who had been dissatisfied with Bush’s father’s failure in 1991 to advance into Baghdad and remove Mr. Saddam.
Mr. Saddam seems to have made the mistake of dismissing Mr. Bush’s “axis of evil” statement in his State of the Union speech in January 2002 as political rhetoric. In this speech, Mr. Bush, after finishing his condemnation of Iran and North Korea, the other two countries in the “axis of evil,” he decried Iraq’s threat of terror against the United States in detail. In retrospect, all matters considered, the speech had been as good as a declaration of war on Iraq.
The recommendation to attack Iraq emerged in the Bush administration shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The U.S. government did not see Iraq as supporting the operations of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The secular Iraqi regime and the fundamentalist Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein the realist and Osama bin Laden the fanatic barely have anything in common.
And yet, the Bush administration consistently prepared for an attack on Iraq and planned the removal of Mr. Saddam. If the United Nations and its allies pitch in, that would be lovely. If not, we will just have to do it by ourselves, said the Americans. For the price of failing to correctly read the United States’ intentions, Mr. Saddam is lying low somewhere underground in Iraq, barely hanging on to his life, which could end at anytime.
Fortunately, Kim Jong-il seems to be better at reading the United States than the luckless Mr. Saddam. North Korea at least does not seem to have eliminated the possibility of the United States attacking its nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon with its state-of-the-art weapons. In the ministerial level meeting held last week with the South, the North Korean delegate mentioned the word “peace” 32 times and “war” 31 times. This is a sign that could be taken as coming from a genuine fear of a U.S. attack on the North Koreans’ part. The North Korean delegate pressed on the South Koreans the importance of upholding peace in the Korean Peninsula through North-South “ethnic cooperation.” In reply, the South Korean delegate described an inter-Korean cooperation without international assistance as “cooperation in a cave.”
It seems that what Pyeongyang wants most now is to achieve a deal through bilateral negotiations with Washington, swapping its nuclear program for a non-aggression pact. It is most frustrating to watch North Korea’s ignorance and naivete in thinking that it can achieve its purpose through nuclear bluffs. The South Korean delegate reportedly lectured the North Koreans for nearly three hours during the ministerial meeting on the atmosphere of international society and the United States’ position on North Korea’s nuclear program. It is yet to be known whether the North Koreans have learned anything from that lecture.
North Korea must understand clearly the significance of the joint statement by President Roh Moo-hyun and Mr. Bush during their summit meeting in Washington in which the two leaders agreed to promote inter-Korean dialogue in accordance with the development of the nuclear problem. South Korea’s assistance to the North is now only possible within the scope that the United States agrees with. Without the consent of the United States, there will be no new business projects other than the already-existing Mount Geumgang tours, the Gaesong industrial complex and the connection of the railroads and highways between the North and the South. If North Korea aggravates the nuclear crisis, no inter-Korean cooperation projects can be carried out.
Mr. Kim could learn a lesson or two from Saddam Hussein, who miscalculated the United States’ determination. The first step Mr. Kim could take in the right direction would be to accept the proposal of a multilateral meeting, an idea that a Chinse envoy urge him to take.
Saying that it would only accept multilateral talks after getting a non-aggression pact is like putting the cart before the horse. In the same way, it is wrong for the United States to insist that North Korea abandon its nuclear program before any negotiations. The nonaggression pact and the abandonment of nuclear ambitions are not the prerequisites, but the objectives of the talks.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie