[OUTLOOK]Rice’s trip to Asia raises hopesU.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that she could not accept the current breakdown in the six-party talks. She said she would visit Asia within six weeks as a final attempt to break the deadlock. The Korean media reported that Ms. Rice said efforts to make North Korea return to the table were running out of time, but there was no ultimatum like that in the full text of the interview. Her visit to Korea, China and Japan might indeed be the last chance for the six-party talks to resolve the problem of North Korea’s nuclear programs.
The secretary of state may have made the decision to try once again to break the deadlock because of the “broad and common approach” to the problem agreed upon when Ban Ki-moon, the foreign affairs minister, and Song Min-soon, the chief presidential secretary for national security, met with their counterparts, Ms. Rice and Steven Hadley, the national security advisor. This two-plus-two meeting was held the day before President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush met.
North Korea’s missile launches in early July made resuming the six-party talks more difficult. Secretary of State Rice’s visit to Korea, scheduled for the end of July, was cancelled after the the Israel-Lebanon conflict began, so Song Min-soon went to Beijing in late August to meet Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. Mr. Song asked Mr. Li to sound out North Korea on its intentions before the U.S. and Korean presidents met. The outline was an attempt to persuade the United States to lift some of its financial sanctions against North Korea and for North Korea to meet the demands of U.S. law enforcement agencies. North Korea was noncommittal in its response to the Chinese probe; South Korea saw that as a half-step forward and sent its nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, to Washington. The U.S. reaction was negative, though.
Mr. Song met with Ms. Rice and Mr. Hadley immediately after President Roh’s recent visit to Greece. In that meeting, Ms. Rice was hesitant, but was persuaded after 20 minutes of discussion to try once again to get North Korea back to the talks. Peace and stability in Northeast Asia were shining goals.
Mr. Song spoke in broad terms about regional reconciliation, saying the nations here would start a multilateral security process and negotiate aggressively to settle outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula and the North’s nuclear programs. He also said that if North Korea still refused to negotiate, it would not be too late to turn to the stick. As a result, about a third of the official documents for the meeting between presidents Bush and Roh were related to a vision and philosophy for the future of Korea and the region.
It is encouraging that Ms. Rice plans to visit Korea, China and Japan despite an atmosphere in which American neo-conservatives are opposed to any settlement of the nuclear issue other than North Korea’s complete surrender. Whether the problem can be solved or not depends on whether South Korea and China can persuade North Korea to come back to the talks within six weeks.
North Korea is also in a dilemma. It does not want return to the talks while it is under U.S. financial sanctions, but it cannot productively use brinkmanship tactics such as a nuclear test. It is only waiting for the right environment to return to the talks.In order for Ms. Rice to earn enough concessions from the U.S. Treasury and Mr. Bush’s approval to resume the six-party talks, she will need some help from North Korea. Pyongyang will have to drop its insistence that a bilateral meeting with the United States must be held first, and it should agree to discuss the counterfeiting issue at a meeting with the United States within the framework of the six-party talks.
Without such a signal, North Korea’s wish to have Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill visit Pyongyang probably will not come true. South Korea and China should persuade North Korea that after the U.S. midterm elections in November, President Bush will lose his political motivation to take a soft stance toward North Korea.
Ms. Rice should learn something from Seoul. It is hard to understand why Washington, after a full year, has not announced the results of its investigation into North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macao. If Washington has found evidence that North Korea is printing counterfeit U.S. currency, it should publicize the evidence. If it has not, it should put a time limit on its investigation. It is not acceptable for the Treasury’s investigation of counterfeiting to hold hostage peace on the peninsula and Northeast Asia.
The secretary will see when she visits here that Koreans are very suspicious as to whether the Bush administration is as determined as the Clinton administration was to resolve the nuclear issues.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie