[Viewpoint]Nuclear weapons must goMany people wonder why U.S. President George W. Bush recently changed the focus of his North Korea policy from pressure to dialogue. But this change did not come about suddenly.
President Bush began to review more positive approaches to North Korea about two years ago when Philip D. Zelikow, a professor of history at the University of Virginia who became a policy advisor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, drafted two papers on the subject that provoked furious debate in Washington. (Zelikow resigned his post in late 2006.)
“In the approach of the United States to North Korea there has been only a single lane labeled, ‘scrapping all nuclear programs,’” Zelikow wrote. “With this approach, the complicated North Korean nuclear problem cannot be solved. The problem should be approached by increasing the number of lanes to five at least.”
In other words, he argued, simultaneous approaches on multiple issues were needed ― including removing North Korea from the designated terrorist-nation list, energy and economic aid, normalization of relations and the conclusion of a peace agreement ― in order to secure the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear programs. His achievement was to fashion a policy out of sporadic discussions that were taking place in academic circles.
About this time, the term “broader approach to North Korea” began to be used in the Bush administration. In this context, Mr. Bush asked Chinese President Hu Jintao during the latter’s visit to Washington in April last year: “How about suggesting a peace agreement to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il?”
At that time, the United States was still concentrating on pressuring North Korea, a strategy epitomized by the $25 million frozen in Macao’s Banco Delta Asia. But in his heart, it seems that President Bush really wanted to make a deal with North Korea. The earlier confrontations that marked the Bush administrations approach to Iraq, Iran and Palestine were clearly not working, and this was a chance for a change.
In September. last year, two months after North Korea’s missile launches, President Bush finally ordered Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to calm down. The North Korea issue was handed to Condoleeza Rice.
This was how the North Korean nuclear problem came to be an operation that linked President Bush, Secretary of State Rice and Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
But Mr. Bush wanted some initial sign of intent from North Korea before moving ahead with a full package of policy changes because it is hard to trust North Korea. Accordingly, Mr. Hill came up with a plan for “initial measures” that would test the North’s willingness to give up nuclear weapons. This would include shutting down the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon within 60 days of an agreement. This plan stayed on course even when North Korea conducted a nuclear test a month later.
The rest is history. With the support of Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice, Mr. Hill met Kim Gye-gwan, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, in Berlin in January this year and implied that the problem of the deposits at Banco Delta Asia could be resolved as North Korea wished. Based on this, the United States and North Korea reached an agreement on Feb. 13 that restarted the six-party process.
Then the problems began. Hard-liners in Washington said it was a fatal mistake to leave out the total scrapping of nuclear weapons from the Feb. 13 agreement. They insisted that now Washington was too preoccupied with gaining tangible results and the goal of scrapping the weapons was being lost.
Though the U.S. measures were reportedly taken to show Washington’s determination to facilitate North Korea’s implementation of the Feb. 13 agreement, even Korean government authorities were puzzled at the rapid changes.
As the United States is busy pursuing “tangible results,” South Korea is deeply concerned about the possibility that North Korea’s nuclear arms capability will become a fait accompli.
A few voices even argued for South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons. This is troubling.
North Korea has long been an international issue that goes beyond the concerns of the United States alone. Therefore, for Washington to produce tangible results, it is essential that all concerned work together, particularly South Korea.
The Bush administration should convince South Korea that the complete elimination of North Korean nuclear weapons remains the ultimate goal of the United States and is the basis for solid cooperation with Seoul.
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Chan-ho