[VIEWPOINT]Tweaking Uncle Sam’s tail

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[VIEWPOINT]Tweaking Uncle Sam’s tail

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul distributed a photo of President George W. Bush posing casually and talking with Jay Lefkowitz, his special envoy on human rights in North Korea.
The embassy said that the photo had been distributed at the order of the White House.
Distributing such a photo illustrates how unhappy President Bush is with South Korea on the question of human rights in the North.
This incident sends a serious message to the South Korean government, particularly to President Roh Moo-hyun, that Mr. Lefkowitz’s comments and criticism mirror Mr. Bush’s thoughts when it comes to human rights in the communist country.
Mr. Lefkowitz has been openly critical of the South Korean government’s silence on the North’s human rights practices, saying that providing aid to Pyongyang without checking when and how that aid is used will only help the regime in Pyongyang.
It was only last September that the members of the six-party talks on North Korean nuclear weapons and programs signed a joint declaration that said North Korea would give up its nuclear development programs. The other five nations would provide economic aid to North Korea in return, and the United States would normalize its diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. In addition, the two Koreas, the United States and China would join discussions on signing a peace agreement at some appropriate future time. The problem of the North’s nuclear weapons program seemed to be solved at last.
So what went wrong?
Many experts here have offered their opinions about what North Korea did wrong, but there has not been much comment about shortcomings in Washington. Blaming the United States for the end of a promising start has been viewed as pro-North Korean, just as people who blame North Korea are denounced as “conservative freaks.”
The fundamental problem in the United States is President Bush’s aversion to Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader.
In the summer of 2000, Mr. Bush said in an interview with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, “I loathe Kim Jong-il. I have a visceral reaction to this guy.”
Mr. Bush then reiterated his abhorrence of the communist leader and added that perhaps his feelings were based on his own religious beliefs. He punctuated his words with a loud tone and a jabbing finger.
When someone has an instinctive abhorrence of someone else, it is hard to change that feeling. It is even harder when religion is involved. Mr. Bush seems to have failed to separate politics from religion.
Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs has been seen as favoring engagement with the North. He appears to have left the spotlight recently.
In 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the U.S. military to draft what is called Operation Plan 5030, war plans for confronting North Korea.
These incidents reflect the U.S. president’s return to his gut instincts about North Korea after a flirtation with dialogue.
The operations plan sounds like a movie script. The draft plan calls for RC-135 surveillance aircraft to fly closer to North Korean airspace, causing the North to burn up its precious jet fuel in interception attempts.
The U.S. commanders might stage a surprise or short-notice military exercise, provoking North Korean forces to disperse to bunkers and use the supplies stored there.
That might, the plan hopes, spark a military coup against Kim Jong-il and thus the collapse of the regime. Financial pressure by the United States on North Korea looks like a preliminary drill for Oplan 5030, which includes steps to disrupt financial networks.
President Roh’s offer in Mongolia of massive aid to the North seems to be based on a judgment that the principles in the Bush administration’s North Korea policy are shifting from solving the problem of the North’s nuclear weapons program to bringing a regime change in the North.
The South Korean government seems to be convinced that the United States is highlighting the North’s human rights violations and the production of counterfeit bills in a bid to achieve such a goal.
If the Bush administration’s North Korea policy returned to that of its first term, South Korea would have two choices. One is to co-exist with North Korea, which would then possess nuclear weapons. The other is to be exposed to chaos caused in the course of political change in the North forced by outside powers. South Korea could even face a possibility of a war.
President Roh’s remarks in Mongolia can be summarized as this: “General Secretary Kim, I will give you a lot. What about you and I getting together without any conditions and solving the problems?”
This remark raises two problems:
First, when South Koreans are already clearly divided over shoveling aid to the North, the people are likely to protest against the offer ― “How can he make such a decision on his own?”
Second, the remarks in Mongolia are a declaration that he wants to confront Mr. Bush head-on. Although the U.S. leader’s pressure on the North is dangerous and needs a balance, Mr. Roh’s nationalistic response, which is far from diplomatic in tone, will only make our country isolated on the international stage.
In particular, sympathizing with the North and its protests over joint U.S.-Korea military exercises is not proper for the president of a U.S. ally to say.
President Roh said some time ago in Los Angeles that it was understandable for North Korea to insist on developing nuclear weapons. That was inappropriate as well as a slap at the United States. What can we give to North Korea while confronting the United States like this?
President Roh should calm Washington’s suspicions by detailing his “many concessions and unconditional support.”

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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