[OUTLOOK]Ending a war, ending paranoiaNothing remains unchanged over the long run, but occasionally something that looks like it will never be changed is. Deadlocks in international relations break, and after fighting desperate wars, enemies become friends. U.S. President George W. Bush’s drastic change of stance on Kim Jong-il is one of those cases.
President Bush called Kim Jong-il a member of the axis of evil in 2002 and a pygmy and a tyrant in 2005. The Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward, interviewed the U.S. president in the summer of 2002. In his book “Bush at War,” the reporter wrote, “I thought he might jump up, he became so emotional as he spoke about the North Korean leader. ‘I loathe Kim Jong-il!’ Bush shouted, waving his finger in the air.”
The book quoted President Bush as saying, “It is visceral. Maybe it’s my religion.” Kim Jong-il puts his people into prison camps, tortures them and starves them, and President Bush saw him as a man to distance himself from and to topple, not a man to negotiate with.
At his meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun in Hanoi last month, President Bush suggested that if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapons, President Roh, President Bush and Kim Jong-il would sign a declaration to end the Korean War. That is a drastic change ― no, it is an epoch-making incident.
Even if the leaders of South and North Korea and the United States agreed to sign a joint announcement to end the Korean War officially, they would have to do a series of difficult things. North Korea should abandon its nuclear weapons or it should make other parties believe that it is doing so. A process to sign a peace treaty will have to be agreed upon, and whether China participates is not a simple issue. It is even trickier to decide which one should come first ― a declaration to end the Korean War or North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons and technology.
A declaration to end the Korean War will serve as a political fence when normalizing North Korea-U.S. relations and signing a peace treaty. When negotiations for peace to end the Vietnam War in the 1970s were deadlocked because of discord over details, Henry Kissinger came up with an idea to produce a conceptual breakthrough. That meant building trust by reaching an agreement to end the war first and then discussing the details.
If South and North Korea and the United States use their wisdom, President Bush’s declaration to end the Korean War will be the best conceptual breakthrough to resolve not only North Korea’s nuclear issue but also other issues in North Korea and on the Korean Peninsula. To suggest declaring the end of the war is a political alternative that has been made after considering many issues from different perspectives, because such an announcement requires North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons, establishing North Korea-U.S. ties and signing a peace treaty as preconditions. For North Korea, it can see where its elimination of nuclear weapons will lead for the first time since the Bush administration entered office.
As long as President Bush thinks of Kim Jong-il as an object to topple, the six-party talks will never resolve North Korea’s nuclear issues. Neo-conservative forces in the Bush administration pushed U.S. policies on North Korea to the extreme, taking advantage of the president’s abhorrence of Kim Jong-il. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hardly raised her voice, stuck between the president and the neo-conservatives.
However, this situation has thoroughly changed because Republicans were crushed in the November U.S. mid-term elections. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had a deep interest in regime change in North Korea, stepped down, taking responsibility for his failure in the Iraq War. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who led hard-line sanctions on North Korea at the United Nations, also resigned.
Experts maintain that the Republicans’ defeat in the mid-term elections will not lead to changes in President Bush’s North Korea policies. But the changes in his views on Kim Jong-il and on North Korea are very meaningful, even more so than changes in the keynote of U.S. North Korea policies. South Korea’s government should not stick to its ideologies and stance on North Korea. Instead, it should collaborate with Washington to make sure Kim Jong-il accepts President Bush’s suggestion on a declaration to end the Korean War.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il should see that the U.S. president’s suggestion to declare the end of the war is the best deal that he can possibly offer.
It is very fortunate for Kim Jong-il that President Bush extended his hand for reconciliation before sanctions on North Korea start to affect the core of his regime.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie