[TODAY]South can mend nuclear crisis

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[TODAY]South can mend nuclear crisis

What has made North Korean leader Kim Jong-il say, “We will go to the negotiating table, if there are mature conditions”? It was steady but firm pressure from China that it will not allow North Korea to have nuclear weapons. How does China exercise pressure on North Korea? It is by sending a clear message to Pyeongyang that North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons threatens the security of China. A special envoy of China, Wang Jiarui, relayed a message to Kim Jong-il from Chinese President Hu Jintao in which Mr. Hu requested Mr. Kim to return to the six-party talks. Mr. Wang, taking the occasion of conveying Mr. Hu’s message, made clear to Mr. Kim that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula coincides with the security interests of China.
A sister paper of the People’s Daily, an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, commented that Mr. Wang’s remark implied a meaningful change in the Chinese position. Up until now, it has been emphasized that denuclearization of the peninsula is essential to the security of Northeast Asia. Now, it has changed to be essential to China’s security interest, meaning that the peninsula’s denuclearization is the direct concern of China.
The Chinese pressure worked because there was an incident that helped China to draw Kim Jong-il’s retreat easily. Last year, an academic journal, “Strategy and Management,” carried an article which criticized North Korea for betraying China despite all the favors China provided to the country, for evading the hunger and sufferings of the North Korean people and for making China’s foreign relations difficult.
At the protest of North Korea, the Chinese government banned sales of the magazine. After that the paper was closed down. The situation has changed. Upon hearing the declaration that North Korea has nuclear weapons and suspended the six-party talks indefinitely, criticism from Chinese Internet users flooded cyber space. But the Chinese government this time pretended to be indifferent to the criticism against North Korea overflowing on the Internet. It was a clear expression of Chinese rejection of North Korea’s ruthless brinkmanship tactics.
If China didn’t persuade North Korea’s participation in the talks, the six-party talks might have not been held from the beginning. Now that China has rolled up its sleeves and has come forward to save the six-party talks and told North Korea that Chinese security will be threatened directly if the North possesses nuclear weapons, how could the North resist Chinese pressure for a long time?
What matters here are the conditions for North Korea’s return to the six-party talks. Pyeongyang makes an excuse that the hostile U.S. policy toward the North is the reason for its development of nuclear weapons. The hostile policy of the United States that the North criticizes may be the talk of “regime change” in Pyeongyang that is continuously mentioned by the Bush administration and economic sanctions that come with the stigma of being a terrorism sponsoring country.
North Korea recognizes the talk of regime change as a policy to destroy it directly and economic sanctions that come with a stigma of a terrorism sponsoring country as an indirect means to kill it. Moreover, ending tyranny and spreading freedom ― the firmly established philosophies of the second-term Bush administration in dealing with foreign affairs ― must have exacerbated the North’s anxiety over the safety of its regime. That is why North Korea has decided to declare that it already has nuclear weapons.
However, the six-party talks are still alive. The talks will not have to be disbanded. At the third round of talks in June last year, both North Korea and the United States showed more flexibility and narrowed their differences. The Unites States has changed its position in a big way, from North Korea’s dismantlement of nuclear programs first and compensation later to giving compensations simultaneously with a nuclear freeze by North Korea. And Washington has been refraining from using the expression “complete, verifiable and irrevocable dismantlement” that the North has rejected. North Korea has also expanded the scope of dismantlement from “nuclear weapons program” to “nuclear weapons related programs,” under which even nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes, including the 5 megawatt reactor in Yongbyun, will be put on the negotiating table.
Still, there is a long way to go. There are big differences of opinion on the North’s highly enriched uranium development program. One of the clues to solving the stalemate is in North Korea’s hand, and another is held by the United States. North Korea must stop playing a nuclear game, that no other country supports and that deepens the North’s isolation, and come to the negotiating table. The United States must present evidence that the North has a uranium development program, if there is any. If not, it must start negotiations on a plutonium development program immediately.
The U.S. insistence that it should be excluded from the list of suppliers of heavy oil, given to North Korea in compensation for a nuclear freeze, makes the North feel uneasy. Even on a symbolic scale, the United States must participate in it. South Korea should be able to maintain a minimum channel of dialogue with North Korea. For that, it is necessary for the U.S. government to leave South Korea to decide the scope and speed of its assistance to North Korea. Focusing on these points, the South Korean government must persuade both North Korea and the United States.

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

by Kim Young-hie
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