[OUTLOOK]Sage advice from elder statesmen

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[OUTLOOK]Sage advice from elder statesmen

I believe it is wise to talk with one’s elders and more experienced senior colleagues when a situation worsens and decisions become hard to make.
A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to discuss the North Korean nuclear program issue with Dr. Henry Kissinger and Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski in New York and Washington D.C., respectively.
Despite the fact that Dr. Kissinger worked for Republican President Richard Nixon and Dr. Brzezinski for Democratic President Jimmy Carter, the two had fairly identical opinions on the issue.
The reason powerful countries like the United States and China are being helplessly dragged along according to Kim Jong-il’s tactics is because they all have revealed their limitations leading up to the situation.
The United States has a bigger responsibility than the others. Diplomatic success is guaranteed when there is a firm objective and the nation possesses the influence and power to establish the goal through planning and executing policies.
In this sense, Washington’s policy toward Pyongyang is slowly revealing its shortcomings.
The initial mistake was failing to clarify that its goal was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by deterring North Korea’s program and not to facilitate the collapse of the Kim regime or to discipline it.
Sending a public warning to North Korea without any military preparation or display brought about Pyongyang’s resistance instead. Perhaps the most revealing shortcoming of U.S. policies is the lack of sincere dialogue regarding policy objectives with any of the nations that are involved in the issue, especially China, prior to North Korea’s nuclear tests.
The two senior diplomats agreed that there should be an extensive strategic agreement between the United States and China in order to take the first step toward finding a solution for the nuclear program in North Korea.
In other words, the focus for overcoming the crisis must be set on Beijing, and not Pyongyang.
Dr. Kissinger, who visited China two weeks ago and met high-ranking leaders including Chinese President Hu Jintao, believes Beijing is ready for comprehensive discussions with Washington regarding the future of the Asia-Pacific region.
An effective solution to North Korea’s nuclear program could come up as a result of such discussions.
There is quite a lot of weight to Dr. Kissinger’s diagnosis and prescription as he was the mastermind who shifted the playing table of international politics and U.S-China relations after his meeting with China’s then-Premier Zhou Enlai back in 1971.
The two figures also pointed out that while Beijing places a high priority on improving its relations with the United States, Washington must not forget that China is also keeping an eye on Japan’s actions and its relations with the United States.
They also understood the difficult position that South Korea is placed in and pointed out that Seoul must establish and carry out more refined diplomacy and national security policies.
The two warned that Seoul must acknowledge that its geographic location and the reality of international politics continue to give more power to the nations surrounding it and added that South Korea must not try to solve the problem at once through direct dialogue with the North.
Dr. Kissinger and Dr. Brzezinski also expressed concern that, while they understand that the contemporary reality and logic of the power balance has influenced South Korea to get closer to China while maintaining its alliance with the United States, it isn’t wise to irritate Washington with anti-American comments or postures.
I could not help but agree when Dr. Brzezinski, who reviews South Korean government announcements and newspaper editorials in relative detail, pointed out that he thinks South Korea is going through excessive confusion and disruption in the process of promoting rational and practical policies and positions.
The two elder statesmen also added hopeful observations that the recent situation derived from North Korea’s nuclear tests might be an opportunity for the countries involved to reconsider their positions and begin a new attempt for developing the regional community.
The United States must exercise decisive leadership so that North Korea can give up its nuclear program, normalize its relations with neighboring countries and avoid becoming the lone exception in a peacefully prospering Asian region.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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