Paying an equal priceNorth Korea has developed a habit of agreeing to one thing on paper while saying it has agreed to something quite different in its public pronouncements.
The deal produced by the six-party talks in Beijing states that North Korea must disable its nuclear facilities as a precondition for receiving aid in the form of 1 million tons of fuel oil.
However, when the North Korean state broadcaster announced the deal it said that the oil would be given in return for a temporary halt at Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. It is unknown whether this was a mistake or an intended distortion. But it’s worrisome that the South and the North have different interpretations of the agreement even before their respective signatures have had time to dry.
Christopher Hill, the chief American envoy, said the deal was not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning and represented only the start of a long process. That’s why we should abide by the principles of action-for-action and reciprocity when providing aid to North Korea under this agreement. We should watch North Korea’s moves and should provide assistance accordingly. That was the purpose of introducing a new system that offers incentives step-by-step.
But the government decided to resume negotiations over providing aid to the North as soon as the deal was produced in Beijing. The Ministry of Unification proposed some working-level contacts with the North in a bid to resume ministerial meetings even before the agreement was settled, and the North accepted the proposal. Thus meetings between ministers of the two countries, which have been halted since North Korea test-fired its missiles in July of last year, are likely to resume later this month.
The government seems to have decided that the agreement meets the conditions for a restart of rice and fertilizer shipments to the North, but it has reached this decision with unseemly haste.
Humanitarian aid to North Korean residents must be resumed when the right time comes. However, we should wait and see what North Korea does next. The government says that assistance to the North under this agreement is one thing and aid in the context of inter-Korean relations is another. But this is not persuasive enough. It seems that our government is moving too fast while other nations are still considering their options. This could mean that we will end up carrying a proportionally heavier burden when the agreement says all nations concerned should pay an equal price.