[VIEWPOINT]An opportunity to be seized

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[VIEWPOINT]An opportunity to be seized

This year’s June 15 Unification Grand Festival has closed its curtains, leaving behind an epoch-making achievement in the history of inter-Korean relations. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s unexpected meeting with South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young was a momentous event, a harbinger of a breakthrough for the progress of inter-Korean relations and the promotion of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In light of the rumors of a “crisis in June” that had been circulating, the event was like a great reversal in a drama. Mr. Kim’s remarks in the discussion demonstrated that our diplomatic efforts to date have not been wasted, because what he said was in line with what we have consistently contended.
Our government has spared no effort in seeking cooperation from the four powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula, according to the principle of a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear problem. Following the South Korea-Russia summit and the South Korea-China summit in Moscow in early May, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the victory in World War II, the South Korea-United States summit was held on June 10.
At that meeting, U.S. President George W. Bush made it clear that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea, and expressed his intention to seek a multilateral security assurance for the North Korean regime, energy assistance and the improvement of diplomatic ties with the North if the country gives up its nuclear program. A summit between South Korea and the fourth regional power, Japan, took place yesterday. Through these summits, our government has created an environment in which the nuclear problem can be solved.
Including the meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Chung, South Korea has now had bilateral meetings with each of the countries in the six-party talks, and can confirm that they have the same stance on resolving the nuclear issue, both in principle and in content.
To take this opportunity, in which an atmosphere of detente between the Koreas and between North Korea and the United States is at its height, and which is a landmark moment for peace on the Korean Peninsula, we should conduct even more active diplomacy from now on.
Though all six parties in the nuclear talks are important, we should put particular emphasis on inducing Japan, the United States and North Korea to take a proactive attitude. Above all, South Korea should persuade Japan to play a more active role than it does now. Japan is making all-out efforts to become a leader in the international community. We should persuade Japan that improving its relations with other Northeast Asian countries will help it achieve this goal, and that the key would be to take a more positive attitude toward resolving the nuclear issue.
We should also persuade Japan that without normalizing its relationship with North Korea, it would be difficult to foresee a secure and smooth future for it. We need to emphasize once again that Japan should establish itself as a leading power in Northeast Asia, not as a mere U.S. dependent, and that it would be in its own national interest to act accordingly.
Mr. Bush’s hint that the United States is prepared to establish diplomatic ties with the North has great significance, apart from the question of how immediately feasible it is. Without normalization of that diplomatic relationship, it will be difficult to resolve the nuclear issue fundamentally and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. Recalling the relationship between North Korea and the United States during Bill Clinton’s presidency brings some solutions readily to mind.
The United States should change its hostile policy toward North Korea to an engagement policy, and should induce the North to become a full-fledged member of the international community by cooperating with its Northeast Asian neighbors.
In this way, the United States could produce peace in Northeast Asia and maintain its status as a leading power in the region. Persuading the United States to take this path could be the biggest challenge facing South Korean diplomacy, but we should accept it.
This cannot be achieved if inter-Korean relations do not move toward genuine normalization. If North Korea undercuts these efforts, it will cut our capacity for diplomacy in half. North Korea should find a way out by utilizing the multinational space that is Northeast Asia, and not limiting dialogue to the United States.
The North should take South Korea as the most important partner, and should attempt to secure its security and rebuild its economy in cooperation with the four other powers. Our long-range diplomatic task is to make North Korea accept this solution.
A nation’s ability to conduct diplomacy depends on the support of its people. We need the public’s backing, and an attitude of unity. Beginning an age of reconciliation, coexistence and co-prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, and peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia based on that, is not mere political rhetoric. I hope the government will make every effort to create a Northeast Asian community, in which we can enjoy prosperity in cooperation with our neighbors without fear of war, and that June of 2005 will prove to have been a turning point.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungnam University’s Graduate School of North Korean Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Su-hoon
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