[VIEWPOINT]The same old North versus a cowed U.S.After a year and three months, the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament resumed today. Although a welcome development for peace on the Korean Peninsula, many experts and observers predict that the talks may not make much progress.
Why? First of all, there has been no change in the North’s position on its nukes. To the contrary, the North’s clout has been enhanced by the missile launches in July and the nuclear test in October.
In September last year, right Pyongyang signed a joint statement proclaiming its intention to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic recognition, Pyongyang produced a new demand ― that light-water reactors should be provided before it gives up nukes. Due to Pyongyang’s belated demand for light-water reactors, the joint agreement was foiled and dialogue was suspended. Since then, there has been no change in the North’s position except that it added a new condition for the resumption of the talks, the withdrawal of U.S. financial sanctions on its assets frozen at overseas financial companies, including the accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macau. But there have been changes in the position of the U.S. President George W. Bush expressed, during his visit to Hanoi in November, willingness to sign a document to formally end the Korean War, if the North dismantled its nuclear technology. Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, met with Kim Gye-gwan, vice foreign minister of North Korea, for 16 hours in Beijing on Nov. 28 and 29 and gave a detailed explanation of the package the North will get in return for nuclear disarmament, including a resumption of the heavy oil supply that the Bush administration suspended in October 2002; food and grain from South Korea, Japan and the United States; a possible end to financial sanctions on the North’s overseas assets; and normalization of relations with the United States to guarantee the security of the Kim Jong-il regime.
It seems Kim Jong-il’s strategy of persisting until the end of U.S. mid-term elections has worked. Without losing much ― although his money deposited in overseas accounts is frozen ― Mr. Kim has succeeded in boosting his position by choosing persistence over compliance. President Bush, who once called him a “pigmy” seems to have been compelled to take a new diplomatic initiative in expressing willingness to sign a peace treaty. Mr. Kim seems to have gained sympathizers in the U.S. Congress, which criticizes the administration’s Korea policy and asks President Bush to talk directly with Pyongyang.
But was the absence of talk the cause of the failure of Bush’s North Korea policy? If Bush had accepted the demand for dialogue, could he have stopped Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions? The Geneva Agreed Framework of 1994, a failed agreement on a nuclear freeze, was the product of direct talk between Washington and Pyongyang ― or so the critics of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy believe.
During the first nuclear stand-off with North Korea, the United States held a round of talks with the North in New York in June 1993. A second round of talks was held in Geneva in July, but Pyongyang continuously failed to meet the conditions for a third round.
On March 9, 1994, when a North Korean official threatened to engulf Seoul in a “sea of fire,” the United States responded by completing Patriot missile deployments in South Korea. In June 1994, when the IAEA declared it could not confirm its safeguards in North Korea, the U.S. broke off dialogue with the North and supported a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions. The Pentagon prepared a plan to augment U.S. forces in Korea by 50,000 troops or more and enforced it with additional deployments of air and sea power to the region to deter the North from any military hostility across the demilitarized zone.
In mid-June, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-il’s late father, invited former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang and conveyed a message to Washington that the North was willing to freeze its nuclear program and allow IAEA inspections. Talk was resumed in July and the Agreed Framework was concluded on October 21, 1994. Despite the sudden death of Kim Il Sung on July 9, 1994, the talks between Pyongyang and Washington took only three months to produce an agreement on a nuclear freeze.
However eager the United States may be to talk to North Korea, the effort will be wasted if it does not accompany an appropriate level of pressure. It was only after the deployment of Patriot missiles, dispatch of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and show of international will to sanction the North that it was willing to freeze its nuclear program.
Armchair strategists say direct talk with North Korea, offering rewards for the North’s compliance, could have stopped it from testing a nuke, launching missiles and pursuing a secret uranium program. Critics should not undermine the position of the U.S. at the six-party talks. What is needed at this stage is firm determination not to allow North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and technology, and a show of solidarity among regional allies.
*The writer, former editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily, is a professor of media studies at Myongji University.
by Park Sung-soo