[FORUM]Time running out for NorthIf it is true that accidents do not repeat themselves, next Wednesday morning the next president of the United States will be decided. It has been such a head-to-head race that some even predict there will be almost fiction-like confusion as there was in the 2000 presidential election, but since this would be bewildering even for non-U.S. citizens, let us first of all assume that this will not be the case this time around.
No matter whether George W. Bush or John Kerry becomes the next occupant of the White House, the most important foreign policy issue he will be faced with is the situation in Iraq. Iraq is expecting to have general elections next January. Although Mr. Bush is in the position to take care of state affairs till the end of January, including matters related to the Iraq elections, if Mr. Kerry is elected, there will be nothing much to expect from Mr. Bush who will become helpless after an election defeat.
Therefore if John Kerry is elected, leadership of foreign policy, including the problem of Iraq, will actually leave Mr. Bush’s hands.
International affairs specialists in Washington all agree that the next agenda after Iraq will be the North Korean and Iranian nuclear problems. The North Korean nuclear problem especially arose as an urgent issue during the election campaign. Mr. Kerry raised the issue, criticizing Mr. Bush for being too occupied with Iraq and neglecting to take care of the substantial and seriously dangerous North Korean nuclear problem. Both candidates agreed on the need to get rid of the North Korean nuclear threats quickly, so they have to find a way to conclude this problem some way.
With the election right in front of us, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pays a visit to Korea, China and Japan. Some U.S. media are reporting that the main purpose of his visits is to coordinate the allies’ policy on the North Korean nuclear problem. But the analysis that these are actually visits to say farewell is gaining more ground. It has been known for a long time now that Mr. Powell is not included in the list of Mr. Bush’s second-term cabinet.
In the midst of a sharp confrontation within the administration over the North Korean nuclear problem, Colin Powell was the one who made it possible to maintain a balance between the hawks and the doves by standing on the side of the moderates. If Mr. Bush is re-elected, according to most observers, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice takes the place of Colin Powell. The leadership role in foreign policy can only be taken by Vice President Dick Cheney, who represents the tougher group on those issues. As long as there is no meaningful change in the attitude of North Korea, the six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear problem will not look very promising. There are even hasty predictions that if Mr. Bush is re-elected, a “nuclear storm” dispatched from Washington will come to the Korean Peninsula some time around next summer ― meaning that there is a big chance that frightening words like U.N. economic sanctions, death and change of regime will appear in the U.S. media.
It goes without saying that Pyeongyang is anxiously awaiting the news of Mr. Kerry’s election. Mr. Kerry has publicly pledged a “big deal” on the nuclear problem through bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea. He has shown a strong will to reach a big agreement not just on the nuclear problem but also on issues such as the reduction of conventional forces and the U.S. forces in Korea, improvement of North Korean human rights and the conclusion of a peace accord with the North, all out on the table for negotiations.
If the intentions of Pyeongyang are for negotiations, the election of Mr. Kerry could definitely be a chance for North Korea. But if their true intentions are in keeping nuclear weapons, there is nothing they can expect from the election of Mr. Kerry.
Moving the United States, using the nuclear issue as a lever that the North pursued for 20 years, has been somewhat successful. There is also an aspect that the North has toyed with Washington making maximum use of the weak and contradictory points of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But now is the time to stop such calculations. No matter who becomes the next president of the United States. it will be difficult to continue number games with North Korea. The only thing that is left is the choice in Pyeongyang.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok