[OUTLOOK]A settlement is still a possibility

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[OUTLOOK]A settlement is still a possibility

Since North Korea declared that it had nuclear weapons and indefinitely suspended its participation in the six-party talks on its nuclear program, other countries concerned have expressed the view that North Korea seemed to be trying to raise the stakes. This is probably true, but the North most likely has a more important goal beneath the surface. The country is trying to make its status as a nuclear power an established fact, and to get recognition from the international community.
Ultimately, if the world actually acknowledges North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, Pyeongyang will be able to exercise great international influence in the political, economic and military realms. As a nuclear power, North Korea would be able to participate in international arms control conferences on a par with the United States.
Through its declaration, North Korea has expressed its firm resolution to arm itself with nuclear weapons.
In February of last year, the U.S. government made public its view that North Korea’s defense policy gave top priority to arming itself with nuclear weapons. The majority of experts inside and outside the U.S. government share the view that North Korea will not accept “a complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement of nuclear weapons” easily, no matter how many incentives they might be given in return. North Korea seems to believe that possessing nuclear weapons is the only clear way to guarantee the safety of its system and its leaders.
At her meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks and reiterated Washington’s three principles concerning the issue: denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula, continuation of the six-party talks and nuclear non-proliferation.
North Korea will interpret the cautious reaction of the United States and the other countries involved as a sign that the international community lacks the will to deter its nuclear scheme, and will try to rationalize its hard-line policy. Then the North will hope for increasing friction between the United States and the other countries, and for South Korea, China and Russia to put pressure on the United States government to make concessions to Pyeongyang.
In its declaration, North Korea has left a path of retreat that would enable it to return to the six-party talks with some justification, should Pyeongyang judge that the situation has turned to its disadvantage ― if, for example, the international community should take a hard-line position and decide to refer the nuclear issue to the UN Security Council.
This recent declaration by North Korea has been a major blow to those in the U.S. government who supported the idea of dialogue with the North. It has resulted in forcing Washington to choose a hard-line policy.
The United States had been preparing a more flexible proposal for North Korea, based on the assumption that another round of six-party talks would be held in March. This incident will put a damper on the sentiment in Washington in favor of putting forward such a flexible proposal.
Even if North Korea returns to the talks, it would be unrealistic to hope for the dissipation of its nuclear ambition. Consequently, the talks will be suspended indefinitely; actually, there is a strong chance that they will end in rupture. The United States will probably choose to increase pressure on North Korea step by step, by referring the case to the UN Security Council and proposing a resolution to sanction the North.
Depending on what North Korea does in the future, the United States will ultimately take oppressive means to change its regime. For the United States, there is no policy option that allows for North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Allowing Pyeongyang to have nuclear arms would bring great losses not only to North Korea and the United States, but to neighboring countries. Needless to say, all effort should be put into reaching a solution diplomatically.
Close examination of the positions of both Washington and Pyeongyang tells us it is actually not impossible to find a solution that protects the core interests of both countries and is acceptable to both sides. Based on long conversations with officials in both governments, I think a comprehensive settlement is still possible. The problem is that even at this point, neither side has the will to settle the problem politically.
First of all, North Korea has to come back to the six-party talks, and there should be a meeting of high-ranking officials from both Pyeongyang and Washington within the framework of these, with no restrictions as to time or place. Then, efforts should be made to get North Korean leader Kim Jong-il involved personally.
When the appropriate time comes, a U.S. representative to whom President Bush gives credence has to personally present Washington’s ideas to Kim Jong-il and ask for a decision. I believe there is a strong chance that Kim Jong-il would accept such an offer. If it becomes clear that his final choice runs counter to the national interests of the United States, it will become inevitable that Washington will move in the direction of using oppressive measures against the North.

* The writer is professor emeritus at George Washington University and a visiting professor at Keio University, Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-jin
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