[OUTLOOK]Don’t dawdle on North Korea“What do we do once the North Korean nuclear problem is solved?” This is the happy concern Korean affairs specialists pondered in the late spring.
The United States aided this issue at the third six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear problem in June, when it showed signs of willingness to accept North Korea’s proposal to settle problems in a package. Under the proposed deal, North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons, and in return, America would compensate North Korea for doing so.
However, the warm breeze turned chilly over the few months after that. North Korea and the United States are presenting hard-line policies and making resolute statements to corner each other, as if they are competing to put an end to the six-way talks.
Also, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the North Korean Human Rights Bill. This bill will allow North Korean refugees to seek asylum in the United States; support broadcast of radio programs that actually stir up North Korean people, and provide financial aid to civic organizations that work for the human rights enhancement of North Koreans. Behind the bill is a plot to change the Kim Jong-il totalitarian system in “a peaceful way.”
The day the North Korean Human Rights Bill was passed, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, in a speech to the neo-conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said that if North Korea continues to stick to its hard-line position, the United States will have no choice but to take the North Korean nuclear issue to the UN Security Council.
In addition, Washington has made clear that the fourth six-way talks cannot be held this year.
As far as the North Korean nuclear issue is concerned, there is air-tight cooperation between the Bush administration and the Congress of the United States. And that is enough to pressure North Korea psychologically.
Just as expected, North Korean Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Su-hon, who attended the UN General Assembly on the same day as Bolton’s speech, told Western reporters, “We have reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods to make weapons.” This sounds like a calculated statement made in consideration of Washington’s hard-line policy toward North Korea.
North Korea has been confusing the battle lines of countries that participate in the six-way talks over the last two years, by repeatedly saying that it is making nuclear weapons and then saying it does not have any nuclear weapons.
The suspicions that surrounded a recent explosion in Yanggang province and the rumors of a mid- to long-distance missile experiment are all part of a purposeful strategic play on the part of North Korea to inspire worry in its adversaries.
The setback in North Korean nuclear negotiations and in North Korea-U.S. relations started when the North made a big miscalculation concerning the presidential election of the United States. North Korea wants to see Democrat John Kerry elected in November instead of Republican George W. Bush.
North Korea probably thinks that once the Democrat is elected, the atmosphere will be more conducive to a dialogue between top-level officials of North Korea and the United States, as it was in the fall of 2000, when General Cha Myeong-rok, who represented the North Korean military, visited Washington, and then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyeongyang.
North Korea must also think that it will be able to give up their nuclear weapons then, in return for maximum compensation, such as the normalization of diplomatic relations and the removal of economic sanctions. John Kerry has no intention of giving them anything, but the North Koreans are already presuming that they will get everything.
There is only one difference in the North Korea-related policies of Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry. Mr. Bush proposes to solve the nuclear problem through multi-party negotiations, like at the six-way talks, rather than bilateral ones. On the other hand, Mr. Kerry is not against having direct dialogue between Washington and Pyeongyang, but he would also like to see other parties involved.
While President Bush doesn’t trust North Korea and its leadership, Mr. Kerry agrees with the spirit of the “Perry Report,” which faces “North Korea just as it is today” in a more open manner. This is because former advisers under the Clinton administration are now aiding Mr. Kerry.
However, the differences between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry end here. Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry, they are all the same in the end: They will not accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. What else could it mean when the U.S. Senate passed the North Korean Human Rights Bill unanimously? On top of that, Mr. Kerry is leading a difficult election campaign.
The passing of the North Korean Human Rights Bill has given Mr. Bush the strength of thousands of worriers and tens of thousands of forces in pressuring North Korea.
There is no guarantee that the second-term Bush administration will not go back to the hard-line stance toward North Korea as it did when President Bush called the country part of the “Axis of Evil.”
If this becomes the case, it cannot be ruled out that the North may cross over the red line of danger and follow the Pakistani model of taking possession of nuclear weapons as a survival strategy.
President Roh Moo-hyun said he will not rush in solving the North Korean nuclear problem. Dark clouds of a third nuclear crisis seem to be coming together in the skies of the Korean Peninsula. Do we really have time to take things slowly?
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie