[TODAY]Kim Dae-jung must be cautious

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[TODAY]Kim Dae-jung must be cautious

The Blue House and the government have placed their hopes on former president Kim Dae-jung’s visit to Pyongyang. According to a high ranking government source, Mr. Kim is virtually the only person in Korea who can personally stress the importance of resolving the nuclear tension and the benefit of progress in inter-Korean relations to Kim Jong-il, the chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission. He is right indeed. Since it is uncertain when the six-party talks will be resumed and Pyongyang and Washington are exchanging harsh words, the government can only hope that a heart-to-heart discussion between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il could bring a breakthrough.
Personal ambition plays a big part in Mr. Kim’s plan to visit Pyongyang. History will remember him as the person who brought qualitative changes in the inter-Korean relationship with a summit meeting in 2000, and laid the foundations for peacemaking on the Korean Peninsula. His achievement won him the Nobel Peace Prize. It is understandable that Mr. Kim, now a civilian, wants to contribute to resolving the nuclear problem, which is an obstacle to the journey to peace, and to see the spirits of the June 15 joint declaration bear fruit. His desire is evident in his intention to ride the first train running on the restored Seoul-Shinuiju line when going to Pyongyang. As president, he had been captivated by the romantic idea of an “Iron Silk Road,” passing through the continent of Eurasia. When peace comes to the Korean Peninsula, the dream of a train running from Busan to the southern tip of continental Europe through Pyongyang and Moscow might become a reality.
However, the problem is not the dream but the reality that is right before our eyes. Can Mr. Kim get more from Chairman Kim than what Chung Dong-young obtained last June? The then-minister of unification got a promise from Chairman Kim to come back to the six-party talks in return for a present of supplying 2 million kilowatts of electricity to North Korea. Half the reason why Pyongyang is reluctant to attend the six-party talks is Washington. The Bush administration constantly provokes and pressures Pyongyang over human rights abuses and counterfeit dollars mainly because of domestic political reasons.
While Washington and the U.S. ambassador to Korea, Alexander Vershbow, pour out hard-line remarks against North Korea repeatedly, we cannot expect Pyongyang to come back to the six-party talks. At the very most, Mr. Kim can only tell Chairman Kim to return to the table and speak for himself. It would be more advisable if Mr. Kim visited Washington first and asked the Bush administration officials to guard their tongues before he goes to Pyongyang. However, since the summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Bush ended as a disaster in March, 2001, the former president has lost the trust of the Bush administration.
It is fortunate that Mr. Kim himself has set a pragmatic agenda for the meeting with the North Korean leader. In an interview with the Monthly JoongAng, he said that he would like to have a frank discussion between people who are concerned about the future of Korea over the response to the United States, the issue of making the six-party talks a permanent gathering, the outside world’s criticism of North Korea and the international status and goals of the Korean people in the 21st century. He also mentioned that he is preparing to talk about the course of promoting peaceful unification. There is nothing wrong with an unofficial dialogue between “people who are concerned about the future of Korea.” As a veteran politician, Mr. Kim craftily makes sure that citizens do not have too many expectations on his visit to Pyongyang.
However, there is one thing he needs to be cautious of. It is his obsession with a confederacy of the two Koreas. Mr. Kim considers that the confederacy of South and North Korea, the first step of his three-stage unification plan, has already been agreed upon in the June 15 Joint Declaration, and therefore, can be implemented anytime. More specifically, he thinks that if the six-party meeting is successful and develops into a meeting to change the armistice into a peace treaty, a confederacy can be established. However, that is not the case. A confederacy of two Koreas is an issue we should discuss after peace is established on the Korean Peninsula. It should not be hastened.
The high-ranking government source made it clear that a confederacy is not something Mr. Kim can make an agreement on in Pyongyang. Not considering the outcome per cost, Mr. Kim’s visit to Pyongyang as a “friend” of Chairman Kim is a good idea. However, he needs to give up his ambition to add yet another historical accomplishment to his name and, at the same time, be cautious of his Pyongyang visit being exploited to boost President Roh Moo-hyun’s popularity in the run-up to regional elections.

*A confederacy of two Koreas is an issue we should discuss after peace is established on the Korean Peninsula.

by Kim Young-hie
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