[EDITORIALS]A bad time to air a disputeWith the difference of opinion between Seoul and Washington over a civilian nuclear program in North Korea having been made public, debate is erupting over the issue. While U.S. President George W. Bush and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill have repeatedly asked the North to give up all its nuclear programs, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young has taken the opposing tack, calling the right to peaceful nuclear energy “a just and general right.” For this dispute to have become public with a final agreement in the six-party talks still pending is not desirable. The Washington-Seoul alliance, the most important factor for successful talks, could be shaken.
There is logic to the arguments of both Seoul and Washington. From the U.S. viewpoint, the fact that North Korea converted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor to military use within months and extracted plutonium from it makes it understandable not to trust Pyongyang to limit itself to peaceful use.
But under the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, if North Korea gives up military uses and agrees to international monitoring, it does have the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, which is a general right guaranteed to all nations. This makes Mr. Chung’s assertion that Pyongyang should be allowed nuclear power understandable. Russia and China are willing to support the North’s right to peaceful nuclear power under the condition that the North returns to the NPT and accepts inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The key to solving this is to erase the mistrust that exists between the United States and North Korea. If both countries establish trust, the issue of allowing a peaceful nuclear energy program can be solved easily. Thus, while the six-party talks are in recess, South Korea needs to make its best efforts to closely cooperate with neighboring countries and the United States in order to erase this mistrust.
To do that, it needs to negotiate on the working level, quietly narrowing and resolving differences. Advertising its points of disagreement with the United States, as is happening now, is of no help at all. When such differences become public, they can hinder the process and bring about unexpected results. Officials from both South Korea and the United States need to refrain from expressing their differences through the media.