[OUTLOOK]A ‘fence-mending’ meeting“Mend a fence with your neighbor, and move one step backward to move two steps forward.” That may sound like a quotation from “The Art of War,” a work of Sun Zi, the great Chinese military strategist in the Warring States era, but in sum, this was the purpose of the summit meeting between President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush in Washington last Friday.
At the subsequent press conference at the White House, President Bush said that Washington and Seoul were “strategic partners and allies and friends.” And President Roh said that he and Mr. Bush were in “full and perfect agreement” on the basic principles. Judging from the remarks of the heads of state, the purpose of the meeting was rather to “mend a fence” between the two allies than to find a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem.
A South Korean government official also admitted, “Working-level officials of both sides set the goal of utilizing the summit meeting as a diplomatic ceremony that could demonstrate the staunch alliance between the two countries inside and outside their respective countries.” The strategy they had in mind was to reconfirm the strong alliance between the two countries at the summit meeting, and then speak in one voice on the North Korean nuclear problem.
It seems, therefore, that the heads of state didn’t spend much time on matters related to the North Korean nuclear problem, except that they urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks and reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and to a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.
Some in the South who are sympathetic toward North Korea may criticize Mr. Roh for not pushing Mr. Bush to offer more enticements to North Korea to return to the talks. But there was no room for both “inducement” tactics and “sanctions” to be included in the talks this time, because it was not a meeting for discussing the solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Perhaps it can be said that there were two inducements to North Korea. President Bush said that the United States would not refer the North Korean nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, at least for the time being. It was leaked to the American press earlier in the month that Pentagon officials wanted to take the matter to the Security Council by the end of June, and a Defense Department official traveling with Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld briefly mentioned a timetable for sanctions against North Korea last week. These were quashed by the White House, as President Bush didn’t want to convey such messages just prior to Mr. Roh’s visit and the summit talks. While leaving all options on the table, President Bush has decided to preserve the leverage of threatening North Korea at a later stage. This is a decision to move one step backward to move two steps forward later.
Another inducement could be Mr. Bush’s reassurance that the U.S. proposal at the third six-party talks a year ago is still valid. Considering the North’s provocative acts in the last year, including declaring that it has nuclear weapons, reprocessing spent fuel rods, shutting down a nuclear reactor and extracting additional fuel rods, and firing a missile, it is a big incentive to the North that the United States is offering the same proposal.
Now, the ball is in North Korea’s court, or rather in Kim Jong-il’s court. Mr. Kim must keep in mind that President Roh has done almost all he could do for North Korea. In order to advocate North Korea’s cause, Mr. Roh didn’t hesitate to “say to the United States what he thought was necessary.” And the president didn’t refrain from expressing disagreement with Washington over matters related to North Korea, including its nuclear weapons development program, even “making his face turn red.”
Some of the American press even speculated that Mr. Roh went to Washington this time to seek assurances from President Bush that the United States would not attack the North Korean nuclear facilities.
The majority opinion in the U.S. government, Congress and the public is for taking the North Korean case to the UN Security Council. In consideration of the opposition from China and South Korea, Washington has been delaying the decision to take punitive action against North Korea. But time is running out. Mr. Roh has already told Mr. Bush all that he wanted to say, and raised his voice in disagreement on some points. Even so, President Roh can no longer resist the strong international trend against North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program.
Seoul’s delegation to the “June 15 Unification Grand Festival” is in Pyongyang, and the 15th South-North Ministerial Meeting is scheduled to take place in Seoul from Tuesday. It is appropriate for North Korea to seek South Korea’s help in solving the nuclear stand-off with the United States, if it really wants to promote “inter-Korean cooperation.”
If not, we must separate “inter-Korean cooperation,” which includes food aid for our hunger-stricken northern brethren and economic cooperation for the survival of the North’s economy, from “nuclear cooperation,” which aims to guarantee the safety of the Kim Jong-il regime. The South Korean government and Mr. Roh must recognize that the North’s nuclear problem is not a North Korean nuclear problem, but Kim Jong-il’s nuclear problem.
* The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo