[VIEWPOINT]New formula for talks can workThe recent Chinese diplomatic initiative to reopen dialogue between the United States and North Korea on the North’s nuclear weapons program seems to be making progress. Dai Bingguo, a Chinese deputy foreign minister, visited Pyeongyang for four days from July 12. In Pyeongyang he held discussions with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. It is believed that Mr. Dai outlined to Mr. Kim a formula for new talks ― a multilateral meeting at which American-North Korean talks will take place on the sidelines.
Mr. Dai continued his diplomatic journey on July 17, this time to Washington. He de-briefed to the Bush administration officials on his meeting with the North Korean leader and discussed detailed terms for new talks. Washington so far has shown an affirmative response to the Chinese formula for new talks. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the press on July 16 that the United States was open to discussions with North Korea. President George W. Bush on Monday acknowledged Mr. Dai’s efforts by saying, “Work with China on a diplomatic solution is still moving forward.”
China has long maintained that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea. But Beijing has grown uneasy recently since the lack of progress in a peaceful settlement will ultimately increase the chances of a U.S. pre-emptive strike at North Korean nuclear facilities to end the threat. And a nuclear North Korea would cause Japan to build up antimissile defense which would be followed by a Japanese nuclear deterrent.
The grim prospects of having a nuclear North Korea in its neighborhood made China to use its leverage to make North Korea negotiate. A spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the purpose of the talks lies in finding “a final settlement to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That implies that China will not allow a nuclear North Korea. And the Chinese officials’ remarks are an echo of President Bush’s declaration in March: The United States will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea.
It can be said, therefore, that China has taken action, as President Bush put it on Monday, “to convince Kim Jong-il that his decision is an unwise decision,” and succeeded in getting some concessions from him.
The United States is determined not to tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea. Washington is strongly committed to work for the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons through international cooperation. Washington insists on multilateral talks including South Korea, Japan and China, because the United States wants these countries to exercise diplomatic pressure on North Korea. At the same time, Washington does not exclude taking “further steps,” such as economic sanctions and military options, if increased threats to peace and stability on the peninsula require.
During the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, it was relatively easier to mediate between the United States and North Korea. What was required at that time was assurances from Pyeongyang that it would come back to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restore the International Atomic Energy Agency’s nuclear safety measures, and come back to the negotiating table to discuss a package of freezing its nuclear facilities in exchange for two light-water reactors to be built by a U.S.-led consortium.
But this time, however, many tougher jobs await ― not freezing, but eliminating completely, verifiably and irreversibly ― all North Korean nuclear weapons programs. On the other hand, North Korea asks for a nonaggression pact with guarantees that the United States would neither attack North Korea, impede its economic development nor overthrow its government. It also wants to revive the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework agreement which Washington regards as discarded since North Korea admitted that it broke the pact.
Former President Jimmy Carter visited Pyeongyang in June, 1994, met Kim Il Sung and returned with a message from Mr. Kim that he wanted a diplomatic solution. Conse-quently, the Geneva Agreement was concluded and Mr. Carter was praised for making a contribution to the settlement of the crisis.
Now, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo met Kim Jong-il and returned with his reaction to the Chinese formula for new talks. He went to Washington to debrief Bush administration officials on Mr. Kim’s reaction. For Mr. Dai’s shuttle diplomacy to succeed as did Mr. Carter’s mediation, he should have a message from Kim Jong-il that North Korea will be nuclear-free if Washington guarantees the North Korean regime’s safety. It is not certain, however, whether the North Korean leadership is confident that it can survive without a nuclear deterrent.
At a business lunch Tues-day, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said he spent three hours at a meeting with the North Koreans earlier this month explaining why the North had to accept multilateral talks rather than bilateral talk with the United States. It seems that Mr. Jeong’s efforts may have helped in Mr. Dai’s Pyeongyang visit. It is not clear whether there was prior consultation between Beijing and Seoul on their course of action, but the result was good. Inter-national cooperation on North Korea works.
In order to make the multilateral talks a success, the North Korean leadership should be assured that the safety and security of North Korea and its regime will be better guaranteed if it gives up its nuclear program. It may be a time for South Korea, which pursued a “sunshine policy” in the past five years, to prove that its friendly persuasion is more effective than Chinese pressure on North Korea.
* The writer is opinion page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo