[Viewpoint]Early signs of spring on the peninsulaLately, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan, the chief delegate in the six-nation talks, has been wearing a radiant smile all over his face. Yesterday morning, every newspaper featured a photo of the South and North Korean chief delegates for the six-party talk with broad grins. The luncheon meeting in Beijing was originally scheduled for an hour, but it actually lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
When Mr. Kim arrived at the Moscow airport to board the plane to Beijing the day before the meeting, his face was rather flushed. It is not confirmed whether he had had vodka with Russian Vice Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov or drank with other North Korean diplomats over dinner. At any rate, Mr. Kim looked different from his usual self.
What came out of his mouth also changed. His words were rosy and positive. Regarding the meeting last week with Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in Beijing, he repeatedly commented, “satisfied” and “good.” After meeting Mr. Kim, Chun Young-woo, South Korea’s chief delegate, said, “I will bring a great Lunar New Year’s gift for the citizens.” He suggested the six-nation talks, which are expected to resume before the Feb. 18 Lunar New Year, would bring certain, visible outcomes. It seems certain the situation is taking a positive turn. Mr. Kim asked, “Doesn’t everything change?” That comment is especially noteworthy. When asked if there had been a change in Pyongyang’s position, he replied that there had. Previously, Pyongyang’s standpoint was that there could not be substantial progress until the issue of frozen North Korean accounts at the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia was resolved.
North Korea first proposed the Berlin meeting. It had been a consistent position of the Bush administration that the United States would not have a separate meeting with North Korea when a bilateral meeting with the North could be held within the frame of the six-party talks. However, Washington accepted Pyongyang’s proposal, and Mr. Kim and Mr. Hill met at each others’ embassies in Berlin for three days starting Jan. 16. While Washington said the meeting was an extension of the six-party talks, it was, in fact, direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea. The United States has changed. And North Korea followed suit, accomplishing positive progress.
The principle of how to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis was defined in the September 19 Joint Declaration. The problem is how to take the first step. Washington suggested an initial phase package deal in which assistance would be provided in exchange for the suspension of nuclear activities, and Pyongyang seemed willing to accept it. It is highly likely that in return for North Korea stopping the operation of the 5MW-grade nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct site inspections, the United States would resume energy and economic assistance and agree to negotiate for the guarantee of North Korea’s security, the normalization of relationships and the transition to a peaceful regime.
The North Korean nuclear crisis has been divided into two phases: freezing the nuclear program for the future and defining and abandoning the program of the past. The first phase is relatively easy to address. Scene one of the second act has begun, as foreign minister Song Min-soon put it. As the trust builds, we can get to the third act, the resolution of the nuclear issues of the past.
Of course, there are many obstacles to overcome until the ultimate goal of “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement.”
“Things change at the ultimate stage. Change brings movement. Stability comes after the movement.” It is a phrase from the Chinese classic “Book of Changes.” With the failed war in Iraq, the Bush administration is cornered. The Kim Jong-il regime cannot resolve the economic issue as long as the nuclear crisis holds it back.
Henry John Temple, who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, said, “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” It is the iron law in the international community. North Korea and the United States are showing signs of change. There is no reason why North Korea cannot become the Vietnam of Northeast Asia. The spring of the Korean Peninsula might be waiting for us.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok