[TODAY]Hope for the U.S.-Korea summitIs the sun shining on the summit meeting between the presidents of South Korea and the United States? If it is true that North Korea informed Washington that it would attend the six-party talks, it is a good omen. If the summit were held without North Korea’s expression of its will to attend the talks, President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush would have to discuss the North Korean nuclear problem in three parts: first, how to induce North Korea to attend the talks; second, how to resolve the nuclear problem at the resumed talks; and third, countermeasures to be taken should the talks fall through. If North Korea’s participation in the talks is an established fact, as has been suggested by sources around the U.S. State Department, the presidents can skip the first item and focus more on how to make the talks a success.
The White House and the Blue House are still cautious about the message North Korea sent to the U.S. government. If North Korea has really decided to attend the talks, then conservatives and progressives in South Korea and hard-liners and moderates in the United States will interpret the background of the decision from completely contradictory points of view.
The hard-liners in South Korea and Washington will conclude that the North has given in because of aggressive actions toward North Korea, such as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s firm statement, the deployment of stealth fighter-bombers in South Korea and the withdrawal of the U.S. soldiers excavating the remains of comrades killed in the Korean War. Progressives in South Korea and U.S. moderates will view North Korea’s decision as prompted by pressure from China and the diplomatic efforts of people like Christo-pher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Right now, it doesn’t matter what people think. If North Korea is returning to the talks, that is all that matters. As for the nuclear problem, Mr. Roh and Mr. Bush just need to discuss a negotiation strategy with North Korea under the presumption that neither war nor nuclear weapons will be allowed, and then hand the strategy over to working-level officials.
The starting point for discussion is already set. The new proposal presented by the United States at the third round of talks last June can be expanded and streamlined, so that the economic benefits and safety guarantees for North Korea are made more concrete. But that won’t be so easy, considering the tenacity of U.S. hard-liners who won’t abandon the idea of regime change.
Mr. Roh’s footsteps are heavy on his way to meet Mr. Bush. Ever since Colin Powell left, the balance in Washington on the North Korean issue has shifted toward hard-liners. The domestic situation in Korea is also harsh. In the National Assembly, where the governing party does not have a majority, the government’s reform bills will be watered down or rejected one by one. The Haengdamdo island development project and the Russian oil scandal are causing disputes not only within the governing party, but among the party, the government and the Blue House. The nation is not united behind Mr. Roh as he heads into this summit.
The nuclear issue and the U.S.-South Korea alliance are the two major items on the summit agenda, and the alliance comes first in the order of discussion. This is because it will be hard to cooperate on the nuclear problem unless we first resolve issues that have caused misunderstanding and frictions between our two countries.
It is good news that the Roh Moo-hyun administration has straightened out the misunderstanding over Korea’s balancer role in Northeast Asia and the problem of strategic flexibility for U.S. Forces Korea beforehand. As Song Min-soon, the deputy minister of foreign affairs and trade, explained to the press, it can be said that Mr. Roh has presented a vision for Northeast Asia while Mr. Bush has presented a vision for the world, and now the two have time to find common ground.
One sensitive problem is human rights in North Korea. Seoul’s position is that there is no short-term solution to this issue, and that the best we can do is to encourage Pyongyang to improve the human rights situation over a long period of time through economic development, as China and Vietnam did. But this attitude does not work for the United States. It is time for South Korea to renew its position and move one step closer to the standard of the United States and Europe on this matter.
If North Korea decides to attend the six-party talks as has been reported, it will lessen the burden on the inter-Korean talks, including a ministerial meeting scheduled for the end of the month.
Continuing economic aid to North Korea in the absence of the six-party talks was a major burden for South Korea. The United States expressed dissatisfaction because Seoul treated the economic aid to North Korea separately from the nuclear issue.
We now know that the North Korean nuclear issue and the U.S.-South Korea alliance are not two separate issues, but two aspects of the same issue. Let’s forget the differences between the governing and opposition parties, and between conservatives and progressives, and watch the progress of the summit in Washington with a prayerful heart.
* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie