[EDITORIALS]Stop downplaying the crisisResponding to North Korea’s claim that 8,000 fuel rods had been removed from its nuclear plant in Yongbyon, a senior Blue House official said, “North Korea’s removal of fuel rods is not a new step making the situation worse, but a repeat of the situation two years ago.” “The situation two years ago” refers to the North’s 2003 announcement that it had processed spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium. We cannot but question whether that is a justifiable perspective, considering that the North Korean nuclear crisis is at a different level now, and that the situation is indeed very serious.
Two years ago, senior North Korean officials were claiming only that Pyongyang had processed plutonium to make it useful in the possible creation of a nuclear deterrent. Officially, the North continued its policy of neither confirming nor denying that it had nuclear arms.
But with Pyongyang’s announcement in February that it had nuclear weapons, the basic framework of the crisis changed. North Korea has made clear its intention to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state. Its argument that the six-party talks should become mutual disarmament talks, since it is already a nuclear power, is in line with this intention. So is its assertion that it will continue to bolster its nuclear arsenal. Given all this, how can anyone say that the current situation is a mere rehash of 2003? What, then, was the significance of the North’s nuclear development over the past two years?
Negotiations behind closed doors are underway among Seoul, Washington and China to resolve the nuclear crisis. We hope it is resolved peacefully. But the problem is the government’s deliberate downplaying of the seriousness of a situation that is worse than it was two years ago.
Why else would the leaders of the United States and China have an urgent telephone conversation? Why else would Chinese President Hu Jintao tell the South Korean president that a “ new situation” has developed where the nuclear crisis is concerned?
It was only recently that the South Korean foreign minister said that the North Korean nuclear crisis was in a “critical stage.” If the government is going to downplay the situation before the foreign minister’s words have even faded, then who can the people trust? The government needs to keep in mind that only if it acknowledges the truth, and makes its plans based on that acknowledgment, will the people will feel secure.