[Outlook]Realism must guide six-way talksThe six-party talks aimed at resolving North Korea’s nuclear issues are to be resumed this week in Beijing.
Resisting Washington’s financial sanctions, North Korea has not allowed negotiations to advance. The United States has clung to the principle that negotiations on the nuclear issues and measures on illegal financial transactions are two different matters.
Due to this difference in their stances, the talks, which have taken place only twice since November 2005, have not produced any breakthroughs.
However, the United States and North Korea met in Berlin last month and presented flexible approaches to resolving problems. The United States is to lift some of its sanctions on accounts at Banco Delta Asia, which reportedly holds money used to support Kim Jong-il’s regime.
In return, North Korea is expected to agree to freeze its nuclear development programs, according to some media reports.
If this happens in reality, the fear that North Korea might develop more nuclear arms can be shaken off and ultimate solutions can be searched for without the threat of more proliferation. That will be the first positive step.
There must be some reason behind the United States and North Korea changing their stances.
In the United States, after last November’s mid-term elections, the Democratic Party gained a majority in Congress. It seems to have figured out that it cannot let North Korea’s nuclear issues get out of control, on top of the Iraq war.
North Korea seems to feel constrained by the financial sanctions placed upon it, coupled with efforts to stop luxury goods from entering the country, which Kim Jong-il needs to control his officials.
Nevertheless, past experience has shown that flexibility may not lead to an ultimate solution to North Korea’s nuclear issue. It is very unlikely that North Korea will abandon its nuclear development programs easily. North Korea seems to have figured out that nuclear arms are the most effective military measure, considering their effects and costs. This is particularly true when its economy is on the verge of collapse.
The leader of North Korea may wonder how he can make his voice heard if his country has no money and no nuclear arms. He may be thinking that it was because of nuclear arms that the United States decided to be more flexible. If this is the case, it is too soon to heave a sigh of relief, even if the talks in Beijing lead to a breakthrough.
As a first step to resolving North Korea’s nuclear issue, offering incentives to the country can be effective. But we must not expect that carrots are enough to induce a change in North Korea’s stance. There is a possibility that North Korea will call itself a nuclear state and take a tough stance in negotiations aimed at dismantling its nuclear program. A realistic approach coupled with reasonable amounts of pressure are absolutely needed.
Even though much of North Korea’s worries about security and survival stem from its insecurity, we should help it overcome its fear and make it realize that nuclear possession is not the answer to its worries.
The countries involved in the six-party talks should make their expectations clear to the North and develop measures that will press the regime step-by-step.
South Korea’s stance is particularly important in this process. When there is no evidence that North Korea values sharing the ethnicity of its neighbors to the south, and makes no gestures toward seeking genuine cooperation between the two Koreas, it is naive to believe that nuclear arms will never be used to destroy the peninsula.
It is also very unrealistic to think that North Korea’s nuclear weapons will eventually become ours after reunification.
When handling North Korea’s nuclear crisis, we should not take an emotional stance, leaning on the shared nationality between the two Koreas.
Instead, we should take a reasonable and realistic approach. We should provide help to North Korea when such help is needed. But we should be able to scold it when we have to.
Only then can South Korea be persuasive in international society.
*The writer is a former South Korean ambassador to France.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.