[TODAY]Why Koreans favor Mr. Kerry

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[TODAY]Why Koreans favor Mr. Kerry

The U.S. presidential election campaign is running so close that even expressions like “extremely thin ice” and “a head-to-head race” are not enough to describe the competition properly.
Republican candidate George Bush and Democratic Party nominee John Kerry are close in the polls, within the margin of error according to the results of different survey organizations.
Mr. Kerry has been unable to maintain a clear lead over President Bush, although he has substantial means for attacking Mr. Bush, such as the situation in Iraq. Rather, he is trying to catch up with the president, breathing heavily.
Mr. Bush did not suffer much even when a commission announced the results of its findings that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Bush attacked Iraq despite worldwide opposition, saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Therefore, the result of the investigation has deprived Mr. Bush of any reason for justifying the war. Still, Mr. Kerry could not catch up with Mr. Bush.
If the third presidential debate last week, which dealt with domestic issues, on which Kerry is judged to have an advantage, does not act as a point to change voters’ views, there is a chance that Mr. Bush will be re-elected by a narrow margin just as he was in 2000.
Mr. Bush has a number of weaknesses in the domestic area, such as sluggish employment growth, health care, education, the environment and the fiscal deficits.
But while Americans may be relatively evenly divided on the election, Koreans overwhelmingly favor Mr. Kerry as the next U.S. president.
According a survey conducted by 10 major newspapers worldwide, including the JoongAng Ilbo, 68 percent of Koreans answered that they wanted Mr. Kerry to be elected. Only 18 percent of Koreans said that they wanted Mr. Bush to be re-elected. By age groups, 86 percent in their 20s, 83 percent in their 30s and 77 percent in 40s answered that they thought badly of Mr. Bush.
It is not difficult to guess why the majority of Koreans hate Mr. Bush.
After his inauguration in 2001, Mr. Bush described North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of an “axis of evil,” without even attempting to present a more comprehensive policy toward North Korea.
Countries that are included in the “axis of evil” are subjects of destruction rather than negotiation. Mr. Bush actually did not even hesitate to make threats about a preemptive attack on North Korea. Mr. Bush could only be seen as a person in danger of “making a big mistake” on the Korean Peninsula.
Then, what about Mr. Kerry? The basic difference between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry concerning policy toward North Korea is that Mr. Bush rejects direct, bilateral talks with North Korea while Mr. Kerry is positive about such an approach.
It is a methodological problem whether they are for or against talks, but even if North Korea attends six-party talks because of pressure from China, the multilateral method favored by Mr. Bush remains unrealistic as long as the North refuses to change its position that the nuclear issue should be resolved through direct North Korea-U.S. talks. This is why the six-way talks have been interrupted so often over the smallest obstacles.
Mr. Kerry attacked Mr. Bush, taking the North Korean nuclear issue as an example of the Bush administration’s failed diplomacy, last month during their first debate. Mr. Kerry claimed that while the Bush administration rejected talks with North Korea, the North kicked out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, restarted its nuclear weapons development program and produced four to seven nuclear bombs, making it an even more dangerous country.
Mr. Kerry made a very persuasive case. We cannot actually confirm whether North Korea has nuclear warheads, but a presumption can be made that it is ready to make weapons whenever it chooses to by recycling around 8,000 used fuel rods.
If a solution to the North’s nuclear problem is delayed indefinitely as a result of Mr. Bush’s North Korea policy, it is highly likely that the North will violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty by producing nuclear weapons.
Care needs to be taken about expressing support for or opposition to a particular presidential candidate in a friendly country. But it can’t be denied that Mr. Kerry’s method of bilateral talks on the North Korean nuclear problem is more favored by South Koreans, especially after the inter-Korean summit meeting in June 2000.
Therefore, I feel that there is a rational reason why the majority of Korean people, even the older generation, wants Mr. Kerry to be elected rather than Mr. Bush.
Nevertheless, Koreans shouldn’t have too high expectations of Mr. Kerry.
Mr. Kerry doesn’t have a magic wand to solve the North Korean nuclear problem in a stroke. Expectations for Mr. Kerry should stop at the point that, if he is elected, he will follow the comprehensive problem-solving method of former President Bill Clinton, resolving the North Korean nuclear problem through bilateral talks between North Korea and the United States.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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