[EDITORIALS]Decision time for the North

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[EDITORIALS]Decision time for the North

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, who visited Pyongyang to participate in the June 15 Unification Grand Festival, met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il yesterday, with no prior notice having been given. Whether the two men would meet had been a matter of speculation.
Now observers are saying that Mr. Kim chose to meet Mr. Chung because of a strategic decision he had made. There is keen interest in what sort of position Mr. Kim communicated to Mr. Chung regarding the North Korean nuclear standoff, which now stands on the brink of either resolution or catastrophe.
The meeting was significant in that the principle and direction of Seoul’s North Korea policy, including the nuclear issue, were conveyed to Pyongyang’s supreme leader directly. It was the first time that had happened since the start of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Inter-Korean relations had not improved much since the advent of the Roh administration, and a year ago they even began to get worse. North Korea had shut down inter-Korean dialogue last July, after Seoul banned South Koreans from attending a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder.
Mr. Roh and Mr. Chung have made such conciliatory remarks toward the North as, “There is some truth in Pyongyang’s argument that its nuclear arsenal is for self-defense,” and “It is not Seoul’s policy to shake the North Korean political system by exploiting the North Korean defector issue.” But those gestures did not work.
On the contrary, Pyongyang confronted Seoul by releasing a list of “10 anti-unification actions committed by the Roh administration,” which included the administration’s acceptance of large groups of North Korean defectors, and its decision to establish an independent counsel to probe the cash-for-summit scandal surrounding the 2000 meeting between Mr. Kim and South Korea’s then-President Kim Dae-jung.
But Pyongyang took a different stance this time, and Mr. Kim met with Mr. Chung, who is also the chairman of the National Security Council, which handles North Korea policy. We believe this is Pyongyang’s expression of a will to regard the Roh administration as a partner in dialogue.
Taking this opportunity, along with the inter-Korean ministerial talks already in the works, we hope that both Koreas can further reduce the tensions between them. In particular, we hope that Pyongyang will not make the mistake of cutting off dialogue based on unreasonable excuses, as it has in the past.
Also significant is the fact that the precise position of Washington and Seoul concerning North Korea’s nuclear program was conveyed to Mr. Kim for the first time since the second nuclear crisis began in October of 2002. Mr. Chung explained to Mr. Kim the true meaning of the principles agreed to in the recent South Korea-U.S. summit: that neither Seoul nor Washington will allow North Korea to have nuclear weapons, and that the issue should be resolved based on peaceful and diplomatic principles.
In particular, Mr. Chung explained in detail the benefits North Korea would receive for giving up nuclear weapons. From the United States, North Korea would get the benefits of being removed from its list of terrorist states and exempted from its export ban on strategic goods, and would be allowed to begin economic exchange in all areas. From South Korea, North Korea would get a large aid package.
Mr. Kim’s reaction is not yet known. It is time for Mr. Kim to accept the arguments of Seoul and Washington. There is no reason to hesitate, because giving up its nuclear weapons programs means the security of the North Korean regime will be guaranteed, and substantial economic assistance will be provided.
North Korea’s time is running out. It must keep in mind what Mr. Chung pointed out. The patience of the United States is wearing thin.
Mr. Kim is said to have mentioned inter-Korean cooperation. But North Korea’s old perceptions and its ideological approach to inter-Korean cooperation must change now.
First of all, for North Korea to insist on negotiating over its nuclear programs with the United States alone, ignoring the presence of South Korea, is not inter-Korean cooperation.
North Korea must recognize that its ideologically-oriented notion of inter-Korean cooperation, which is designed to alienate South Korea from the United States, will no longer be accepted by the South Korean people. South Koreans know full well that North Korea’s 60-year-old “juche” ideology and the “North Korean way” have brought nothing but economic devastation.
Mr. Kim must agonize over how to promote the welfare and security of the Korean people, both in the North and in the South. The answer is returning to the six-party talks, and deciding to cut the tangled knot that is the nuclear problem. This is the only answer that guarantees the co-existence of the North and the South.
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