[OUTLOOK]Contact can help open North

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[OUTLOOK]Contact can help open North

U.S. senators from both the ruling and opposition parties criticized the Bush administration’s North Korea policy at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on June 16, pointing out that the Bush administration failed to make clear whether its priority is to solve the North Korean nuclear problem or to bring about “regime change.”
The United States cannot always openly state its main goal, considering the character of the problem at hand. However, looking at the results of the Bush administration’s policies, there are not many who can say that its policy on North Korea has been all that successful.
In the end, the United States is in an equivocal position, where it can neither persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program nor threaten the country if it does not.
Why have things ended up this way? It is a serious problem indeed that President George W. Bush, well known for making quick decisions, is still not able to decide on the direction of U.S. policy on North Korea and that a dispute between the hard-liners and the moderates persists even within the administration.
The hard-liners have considered the Kim Jong-il regime to be an evil force from the beginning, and they believe that sitting face to face with such a regime to negotiate and reach an agreement is not only meaningless but even dangerous. After all, North Korea did not honor the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement and instead secretly pursued an enriched uranium nuclear development program.
That is why hard-liners think talking directly with Kim Jong-il is meaningless. They think that the Kim Jong-il system is an entity with whom they cannot negotiate unless the system itself goes through fundamental changes.
The moderates also think that the Kim Jong-il regime is untrustworthy, but they acknowledge the need to interact with it to solve the nuclear problem.
The problem with President Bush is that he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about the dispute between the hard-liners and moderates. I think this is because Mr. Bush is hesitant about negotiating with the Kim Jong-il regime as he recognizes it as an incarnation of evil.
Yet, at the same time, President Bush knows that there is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear problem than to sit down and have direct talks with the North Korean regime. As long as President Bush himself fails to overcome this contradiction in approaching the North Korean nuclear problem, U.S. policy on North Korea can only continue to wander.
To overcome these problems, the United States needs to set the idea of “change through contact” as the strategic goal of its North Korea policy. The idea of “change through contact” was the goal that West Germany used in its policy dealing with East Germany.
Likewise, South Korea also needs to pursue more contact with North Korea if we want the country to change. This is the only way because it is difficult to expect a small and internationally isolated country to change its governing system on its own.
North Korea has gone through several decades of isolation from the rest of the world, so it needs an open channel of communication with the outside world if it is to undergo a meaningful change. For this reason, I believe it would help us to make the opening of North Korean society a basic strategic goal of our North Korea policy.
However, the reaction to this opinion is that it takes too much time. But even though it takes time, we have to acknowledge that there is no other way to induce change in the North than to make further contacts with the country.
As the unification of Germany shows us, the gods of history might have the ability to unify the Korean Peninsula right away, but people do not have the capability to make it happen.
Therefore, without eliminating the possibility that North Korea could suddenly change through divine providence, the only path we can take is to try to open the windows of North Korea one by one and persuade North Korea through a variety of methods.
The recent event held in commemoration of the Joint Declaration of June 15, 2000, can be seen as desirable in that it provided North Korea with a limited but substantial chance to receive contact with people of the outside world. If we set the goal of our approach to North Korea as “change through contact” and continuously work to make it a reality, I believe that we will suddenly find ourselves unified one day in the future.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-won
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