[VIEWPOINT]No reason for North to agreeTuesday was the fourth anniversary of the South-North Summit Meeting in June, 2000. Comme-morative events were held in Seoul and signs of progress in relations between North and South Korea were seen here and there.
President Roh Moo-hyun ex-changed greetings with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il through a high-ranking North Korean official, Ri Jong-hyok, who was visiting Seoul to participate in an international seminar to commemorate the anniversary. Mr. Kim’s personal message and his commitment to enhancing the inter-Korean relations was conveyed to President Roh by Mr. Ri. President Roh promised to provide the North with comprehensive economic assistance once the nuclear problem is resolved.
On the day, military authorities of both Koreas decided to stop all propaganda broadcasting along the Demilitarized Zone and dismantle loudspeakers and propaganda signboards by the middle of August. Another bit of progress was the opening of one-day Mount Geum-gang tours for South Koreans. The new tour program, which will enable South Koreans to enjoy a visit to Mount Geumgang and return on the same day, could mean heavy traffic congestion at the border. Earlier in the month the two Koreas held successful high-level military officers’ meetings and agreed to take measures to prevent conflict between their navies on the Yellow Sea.
Encouraged by positive developments with the North, many South Koreans place high hopes on the success of the third round of six-way talks in Beijing next week.
Seoul’s relations with Washing-ton, on the other hand, were beleaguered with ominous incidents in the past weeks. First, it was a news report in mid-May that 3,500 troops of the 2d Brigade under the 2d Infantry Division of the U.S. Forces in Korea will be dispatched to Iraq. It was followed by more shocking news on May 20 that one-third of 37,000, or 12,500 U.S. troops in Korea will be reduced by the end of 2005. For ordinary Koreans who believe in a staunch Korea-U.S. alliance, both pieces of news came out of the blue.
The Korean government explained that it was consulted on the changes in advance, but that was not enough to dispel people’s worry over security, especially the future of Korea-U.S. alliance. Worries of the people were not groundless. They soon heard that the negotiations between Seoul and Washington over the transfer of the U.S. base in Yongsan, Seoul, was bogged down. It was the ninth round of the Future of the Alliance Talks and the reason for the failure was a dispute over the size of land for the new bases in Pyeongtaek and Osan, 60 kilometers (36 miles) south of Seoul. The U.S. side expressed regrets over the uncooperative attitude of the Koreans, and the Koreans didn’t hide their disappointment over the lack of reason of the U.S. side. They were of the opinion that since the U.S. Forces in Korea is going to be reduced to two-thirds, the land they need should be smaller than required earlier. Anyway, the staunch alliance has turned into relations of exchanging complaints and expressing regrets.
The aim of the six-way talks is persuading the North to dismantle all its nuclear programs in return for economic aid and a security guarantee. If the North dismantled its nuclear programs completely, verifiably and irrevocably, South Korea and Japan would provide economic aid to Pyeongyang and Washington would give assurance of safety to the North Korean leadership. China and Russia play the role of coordinators between North Korea and the United States.
In these negotiations, the most important thing is close collaboration among the United States, Japan and South Korea. Through watertight collaboration, the three should let the North know that without U.S. approval, the other two can provide the North with nothing ― no oil, no grain, no food or any other economic assistance. Only then, the deal with the North will work.
If the North thinks that it can get what it wants through other means, such as opening its ports to the South, handing over family members of abductees or agreeing to create an industrial complex, the six-way talks can’t succeed.
Now that the fundamentals of the Korea-U.S. alliance are changing and Seoul wants to take a more independent stance in security and defense, there is no reason for Pyeongyang to believe that Seoul will follow strictly what Washing-ton wants in the six-way talks.
Moreover, the U.S. presidential election is only five months away, and part of the U.S. 2d Infantry Division is still deployed along the border ― a trip-wire against a U.S. pre-emptive strike at Yeongbyon. And 250,000-tons of rice is on its way from Japan in compensation for handing over five family members of the Japanese abductees. The North sees hardly a reason to comply with the U.S. demands at the Beijing talk later this month.
* The writer is the opinion page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo