[VIEWPOINT]U.S. patience running thin

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[VIEWPOINT]U.S. patience running thin

The final round of the U.S. presidential election is the three televised debates between the candidates. Opinion polls after the first debate said John Kerry came out better than the president. It is hard to predict how the debate will influence the direction of the voting, but it certainly has stopped Mr. Bush’s dominance and brought Mr. Kerry into a close contest against the president.
Unlike in other presidential elections, foreign affairs and security issues were chosen as the agenda of the first debate, reflecting the domestic atmosphere. After all, this year’s presidential election is being held in wartime. What is of most concern in the U.S. presidential election is the fact that North Korea’s nuclear threat has emerged as one of the biggest issues along with the war against Iraq.
The election is expected to have a direct influence on Korea, possibly as much as that of the 1952 election, held during the Korean War. Having dispatched 3,600 troops to Iraq, Korea will inevitably be affected by the next White House’s policy on Iraq, and it is not too much to say that the North Korean policy of the next administration could determine the fate of Korea.
John Kerry consistently attacked the diplomatic blunders of President Bush, calling the war against Iraq an entirely wrong decision. As a result, the Bush administration neglected the nuclear armament of North Korea, he said, which was far more important to the security of the United States.
The two candidates have shown considerable differences in how to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. The Democratic candidate claimed that North Korea now has four to seven nuclear weapons and the world has become far more dangerous because the Bush administration did not pursue dialogue with Pyeongyang. He emphasized that he would seek a resolution by direct talks with North Korea. But President Bush said he would continue to pursue the six-nation talks.
What we need to pay attention to as much as the clear difference between the two candidates is the fact that Messrs. Bush and Kerry share the stance that nuclear proliferation is the biggest threat to the security of the United States and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the center of the problem.
Mr. Kerry emphasized the United States had a right to pre-emptively attack in order to protect itself, and had said in a television interview that he would not exclude the possibility of a pre-emptive attack against North Korea if diplomatic efforts failed. No matter who is elected president, the nuclear issue will surely be at the top of Washington’s agenda.
If George W. Bush is re-elected, he would initially seek resolution through the six-way talks, he said, but if the approach makes no progress by the first half of 2005, he would pressure Pyeongyang by taking the issue to the United Nations Security Council and imposing economic sanctions.
If John Kerry wins the election, he is expected to pursue direct talks with Pyeongyang from the second half of 2005, when his foreign affairs and security team is organized. However, since Mr. Kerry has proclaimed Pyeongyang as the biggest threat to the United States, he will not be too attached to a dialogue that has made little progress in two years. Having once failed in resolving the nuclear threat with the Geneva Agreement, the Democratic administration would not want to repeat the blunder.
The two candidates might have different approaches but essentially share the same substance. Unless Pyeongyang clearly expresses an intention to give up nuclear weapons quickly, Washington’s policy would not differ much no matter who is elected president.
We are standing at a very crucial juncture. Now that the Republican and Democratic candidates have little difference on the matter except for the format of the talks, there is more we can do than just wait for the election results. Some insist that we need to reinforce cooperation with the North in order to prevent a war. But war and nuclear weapons are not separate issues. If we pursue anti-war policies while neglecting North Korea’s nuclear arms, the result would be disastrous. We need to keep in mind that only anti-nuclear efforts can prevent a war.
We do not have much time. Whether Mr. Bush is re-elected or Mr. Kerry wins, Seoul needs to create a close dialogue channel with the new diplomatic and security team in Washington based on trust and respect. We need to accept the fact that Korea-U.S. cooperation is the only way to avoid the worst case scenario.
We should also mobilize all channels to the North and send a special envoy to urge Pyeongyang to recognize the situation accurately. At this juncture, it is important that the fourth round of the six-way talks are resumed without delay.

* The writer is a professor of national security and unification studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Yun Duk-min
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