[TODAY]The key is in Bush’s handLieutenant General Patrick Hughes, an information analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, was the person who leaked to a New York Times reporter the news that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons in underground facilities located at Kumchangri. The general’s evidence was a photograph that had been taken from a spy satellite.
Once The New York Times printed the story, there was an uproar from Congress, from the Defense Department and from conservatives at the Central Intelligence Agency, who said that North Korea had violated the 1994 Geneva Agreement. That is how the 1998 crisis over the suspected nuclear facilities at Kumchangri began.
Neither the Washington hardliners nor the U.S. media knew the real story behind the satellite image. The North Korean government had actually mobilized thousands of soldiers when it knew that a U.S. satellite would be overhead, to make it look as though a large construction project was underway. By firing a long-range missile over Japanese territory, Pyongyang even created the impression that it would soon be able to reach the United States with its missiles.
Caught by surprise, President Bill Clinton’s administration demanded that North Korea allow an on-site inspection of Kumchangri. Pyongyang replied that it could not do so without something in return. In the end, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with 600,000 tons of food, worth $3 billion, and was allowed to inspect the Kumchangri facilities the following May.
The State Department report that followed said there was nothing in the underground facilities, and that North Korea had not, in fact, violated the Geneva Agreement. That is how the Kumchangri incident of 1998 ended.
The Kumchangri story is a comedy, the story of how a small person completely fooled a giant. However, it was also a tragicomedy, in the sense that it was a dangerous gambit that involved toying with the safety of both North Koreans and South Koreans.
Now reports that North Korea may be making preparations for a nuclear weapons test in Kilju are escalating the nuclear crisis. Pyongyang seems to have been encouraged by the resulting uproar, and has even added to the fire by announcing that it has completed the task of extracting 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods from its reactor in Yongbyon.
Is Kilju a repetition of Kumchangri? Is it a North Korean bluff to enhance its negotiating power? Or does North Korea intend to follow the Pakistan model with a long march toward nuclear arms? The Kilju commotion could be a diplomatic show, or it could be a prelude to confirmation that the North is a nuclear power.
At any rate, the five other participants in the six-way talks must devote all their energy to solving the nuclear problem. Comparing what it would cost to prevent North Korea from getting nuclear arms to what it would cost to deal with Pyongyang once it has them makes it clear what needs to be done.
But nothing will come of a vague determination to do everything we can. It is the United States that holds the key to resolving this situation. The key is in the hand of U.S. President George W. Bush. The United States needs to change its North Korea policy.
What do they need to change, and how? They need to make North Korea believe that if it gives up its nuclear weapons, its safety will be guaranteed with a peace treaty and the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States.
Pyongyang thinks that if it gives up its nuclear program, the United States will demand improvement in its human rights situation, and then a reduction of its conventional military forces, as conditions for normalizing diplomatic relations. North Korea is suspicious that the ultimate goal of the Bush administration’s policy toward it is regime change.
That is why the United States needs to present, in detail, its guarantee of the regime’s safety, and the economic benefits the North will receive in return for giving up its nuclear program.
The Bush administration needs to listen to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who calls its North Korea policy the most faulty diplomatic policy ever. Mr. Kristof asserts that North Korea built zero nuclear weapons during the Clinton administration, and as many as six during the Bush administration.
Even James Laney, the former U.S. ambassador to Korea, has criticized the Bush administration, saying that its policy toward North Korea has had the unintended effect of giving Pyongyang the chance to make six to eight nuclear weapons.
It is too early to conclude that a crisis is imminent. We cannot exclude the possibility that Kilju is another Kumchangri. But we have nothing left to say to the North Koreans.
President Hu Jintao of China is scheduled to visit North Korea before long. While pinning our hope on Mr. Hu’s persuasive power, we also need to firmly and specifically ask the Bush administration to present North Korea with a blueprint for the safety of its regime, and for the country’s economic support, without adding any new conditions in areas such as human rights.
The summit between President Roh Moo-hyun and President Bush in late June or early July will be our last chance. Though perhaps not in these exact words, it is important that we start by acknowledging that the Bush administration’s hard-line policy toward North Korea has been a failure.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie