[OUTLOOK]A flurry of diplomacyA flurry of diplomatic negotiations is taking place over the Korean Peninsula. North Korean and U.S. foreign ministry officials, who had been refusing to hold talks due to the tension over Pyeongyang’s nuclear program, held a separate meeting during the Asean Regional Forum meeting in Jakarta last Friday.
It seemed that the two parties were trying to continue the momentum of the first earnest negotiations that went on in Beijing during the six-party talks. U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit Seoul tomorrow to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun and foreign ministry officials.
Ms. Rice’s visit is part of a three-leg tour including Japan and China, her first visit to Northeast Asia since the Roh Moo-hyun administration took office. The visit is being made when we face sensitive issues such as the dispatch of our troops to Iraq, the still unresolved crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program and the relocation of U.S. troops in Korea.
It seems that the U.S. government has decided that the Iraq situation has more or less come under control and that it can give more attention to North Korea. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 was adopted early last month to acknowledge the current supervisory system in Iraq, and limited sovereignty has been returned to the Iraqi interim government as promised.
Restoration of normalcy will be difficult until the multinational forces join hands to prevent terrorism and restore order, but the U.S. government seems determined to keep its promise to launch a new Iraqi government through general elections next January.
The U.S. government was initially of the position that it will only give assistance after the complete removal of North Korea’s nuclear program. The stance has a reason, taking into account that North Korea broke the Geneva Accord. However, as neighboring countries have asked the United States to be more considerate of North Korea’s position and to present kinder and more realistic negotiation conditions, the U.S. seems to have become more flexible.
U.S. domestic politics also seems to have played a part, with conjectures that the Bush administration is trying to weaken Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s card of direct talks with North Korea.
If the Bush administration shows earnest efforts to talk with North Korea, it can avoid the criticism of Democratic supporters in the November election that it did not do anything to solve the North Korean nuclear situation but rather held on to its hard-line stance.
This is not to say that the Bush administration is doing this only for form’s sake and that it is not genuinely interested in an agreement with the North Koreans. The more details are revealed about the assistance that the United States is willing to offer Pyeongyang, the bigger the pressure will be on North Korea to come clean with its highly enriched uranium nuclear program.
What we need to take notice of is North Korea’s recent diplomatic drive. North Korea has acquired the unchanging support of South Korea in economic cooperation projects such as the construction of the Gaeseong industrial complex, and now it has turned its attention to engaging in dialogue with the four neighboring powers.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China in April and met with President Hu Jintao. Pyeongyang had a second visit from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in May. After visiting Seoul on Sunday, the Russian foreign minister flew straight to Pyeongyang to meet with his North Korean counterpart. There is a strong possibility of Kim Jong-il visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.
Should Mr. Kim’s visit to Moscow be realized, it would mean that North Korea has established official diplomatic channels with all other participants in the six-way talks. Once Kim Jong-il’s visit to Seoul is also realized, it would mean that only the final task of a summit meeting with the United States would be left.
North Korea’s enthusiastic diplomatic drive is partly due to a desire to boast of the 10 years of Kim Jong-il’s rule and to alleviate the mounting tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Also, by attracting South Korean, American and Japanese investment in North Korea as well as speeding China’s participation in energy projects, North Korea plans to solve its security problems and its energy shortage at the same time.
However, North Korea must realize that all this is impossible without the complete dismantlement of its nuclear program and consequent inspections. Unless it abandons all hope of trying to receive assistance without showing progress on resolving its nuclear issues, North Korea’s diplomatic tactics will fail to bring any real results.
When President Roh finishes his visit to Moscow scheduled in the fall, the new South Korean government will have completed a round of summit diplomacy with the four major powers.
The significance of diplomacy is not in the meeting itself but the principles and trust found within the context of the meeting.
South Korea must play an active role in ensuring that the diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea do not end in empty words but achieve real progress.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-hyo