[OUTLOOK]Pro-North image may ease tension

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[OUTLOOK]Pro-North image may ease tension

The talk of the town is the so-called June crisis. They say that a certain kind of friction is likely to occur on the Korean Peninsula because of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program. There is no sign that the six-nation talks will resume anytime soon. Instead, the hostile rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang is heating up.
North Korea behaves as if the world recognizes it as a nuclear power, and Washington has made it clear that it will have to consider “other measures” in case the six-way talks fail. As far as the North’s nuclear weapons issue is concerned, Washington and Pyongyang are like two trains on a collision course.
However, there is no specific intelligence that indicates the catastrophe will happen in June, nor that will it be limited to the month of June. This critical situation will continue well into the future because Pyongyang is not likely to give up its nuclear ambition easily.
We cannot presume that North Korean leaders invested such an enormous budget on the nuclear weapons just to use them as a negotiation card with Washington. The most fundamental reason that North Korea cannot abandon its nuclear project is that, like almost all other autocratic regimes, Pyongyang needs an external threat in order to maintain internal stability.
If the country’s relationship with Washington improves, Pyongyang can no longer exploit the citizens’ antagonism against the United States as a means to bind the North Korean citizens together. For this reason, while Pyongyang participated in the six-way talks, it strengthened the basic anti-Americanism of the North Korean system at the same time.
Another problem regarding the nuclear issue is that the United States has failed to come up with a single, consolidated opinion. While most liberals in the American society and State Department specialists generally support a resolution through negotiations, the neo-conservatives are skeptical of the very idea of dealing directly with North Korea.
The neo-conservatives occupy key policy-making posts, and more important, President George W. Bush’s values are based on the neo-con philosophy. As a result, Washing-ton is not too enthusiastic about directly negotiating with North Korea.
However, if we were to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, negotiations with North Korea would be inevitable. No matter how evil the North Korean dictator might be, we must resolve the crisis not with a war but with a peaceful resolution, and only through the process of negotiation.
Of course, both Pyongyang and Washington seemed to be willing to make a deal under the six-way talks, which might have offered a stage for such masquerades for North Korea and the United States.
However, such acting is no longer valid. It’s time to participate in the negotiations earnestly.
The core of the problem is how important the prevention of the North Korean nuclear program is to South Korea. Washington and Seoul need to communicate and discuss seriously whether it is worthwhile to offer an incentive tempting enough for Pyongyang to give up its obsession with its nuclear program.
In addition, we have to make sure Pyongyang understands that certain sanctions are unavoidable in case North Korea continues to refuse to give up its nuclear weapons.
This is where South Korea’s role is crucial. Seoul has given off the impression that it will not do something that Pyongyang opposes. From now on, such a pro-North Korean image might help Seoul in persuading Pyongyang.
Pyongyang is quite unhappy that Beijing, which has possibly made a covert arrangement with Washington, hasn’t hesitated to make hostile comments against North Korea lately, and so it’s possible that the North could have a high regard for the South Korean government’s consistent pro-Pyongyang policies.
Therefore, if Seoul, which has been most sympathetic to North Korea in the six-way talks, tells Pyongyang that it cannot help the North unless the nuclear tension is resolved, it would be more convincing than any other nation’s claim.
It might be ironic, but because the South Korean government has been friendliest towards the North, it may be the best suited to persuade North Korea.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-won
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