[VIEWPOINT]North’s choice: misery or maturationThe blueprint for “a big deal between North Korea and the United States” that will decide the fate of the Korean Peninsula is about to be drawn. Depending on what choices North Korea’s leadership makes, a summit talk between President George W. Bush of the United States and Chairman Kim Jong-il, not to mention a U.S.-North Korea foreign ministers’ meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her North Korean counterpart, can take place. This is North Korea’s best diplomatic opportunity since December 2000, when then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the country.
The United States sent out the first signal that it was willing to make a deal with North Korea. During his visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, on Nov. 18, President Bush expressed a willingness to sign a document with Kim Jong-il that would formally end the Korean War on the condition that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons development program.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the United States is willing to hold a “ceremony” to mark the armistice transfer.
Following the statement, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Christopher Hill, met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan for 16 hours in Beijing on Nov. 28 and 29 to explain the details of the package ― including the lifting of financial sanctions, security guarantees, food and energy aid and the establishment of diplomatic relations ― that will be offered in return for the North’s nuclear disarmament.
The word “ceremony” is the one that we have to pay attention most in the White House statement.
If North Korea and the United States actually hold a ceremony to officially announce the end of the Korean War, there is a high chance the venue will be either Pyongyang, Seoul or Panmunjom, and the signatories will be President Bush, Chairman Kim Jong-il, President Roh Moo-hyun and President Hu Jintao of China. The ceremony would provide a natural chance for a meeting between President Bush and Chairman Kim. In other words, a North Korea-U.S. summit meeting would be held.
The political carrot President Bush offers to Pyongyang now goes beyond the Bush-style way of thinking of the past. According to the rule that “there is no compensation for wrongdoings,” the Bush administration has insisted on a “dismantlement of the nuclear program first and compensation later” formula for the past five years.
However, this time, the compensation package Mr. Bush is presenting to North Korea now not only goes against the principle of correcting the wrongdoings first, but offers a comprehensive and enticing package that includes almost everything the United States can give, such as the signing of a peace treaty, energy and economic aid and a summit meeting.
The internal political situation of the United States is also changing in favor of North Korea right now. Of the three people that led the hard line policy against North Korea ― Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton ― Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bolton have stepped down recently and Vice President Dick Cheney’s power has weakened conspicuously. As a result, the influence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill on the North Korean issue will grow.
If I may borrow a North Korean expression, it is the “sovereign right” of the North Korean leadership to decide whether to hold a summit meeting with President Bush, or to cling to nuclear weapons insisting that “we will live in our own way.” However, one thing that is clear is that depending on the choices Pyongyang’s leadership makes, the fate of North Korea, as well as the historical evaluation of Kim Jong-il, will change. If Kim Jong-il rejects President Bush’s offer, he will go down in history as a North Korean dictator who developed unworthy nuclear weapons because of his inferiority complex toward his late father Kim Il Sung.
On the contrary, if he steps forward to improve ties with the United States by deciding to hold a summit meeting with President Bush, he will be recorded as a leader of Northeast Asia with historical intuition.
If he lets this chance go by, it is highly likely that North Korea will be driven to a miserable situation, in which the people will suffer from bad living conditions and food shortages under the sanctions imposed by Article 1718 of the United Nations Security Council. North Korea must stop hesitating and take this chance. Kim Jong-il is already 65 years old.
*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Brent Choi