[Outlook]Summit timingIt rained in the late afternoon at Hwa-gye Temple, located on the side of Mount Bukhan. In one of the temple’s rooms, some 40 guests were seated on cushions arranged carefully on the floor. Among them were the former head of the National Intelligence Agency, former ministers, heads of banks, poets, businessmen, journalists and more. Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. Ambassador to Korea, a person who would seem foreign to these surroundings, was the only one seated on a chair. But Vershbow finished his bibimbap clean to the bottom of the bowl and sank naturally into the surroundings of the Hwa-gye Temple, which was established in 1522 by the Zen monk Shinwol.
There he explained the U.S. position on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The discussion, chaired by Lee Bu-young, the director of the Committee for Reconciliation and Co-existence, was sincere.
Vershbow repeatedly emphasized that everything is possible once North Korea gives up nuclear weapons, and that the U.S. remains ready to discuss peace regime for the peninsula this year.
It was particularly noticeable that a high-profile representative of the U.S. government clearly mentioned the time frame ― this year. It certainly sounded like a message to North Korea.
Vershbow also reaffirmed the direct link between the peace process and the denuclearization of North Korea, emphasizing that the two must go hand in hand and there could be no compromise on weapons. If North Korea possesses even one nuclear weapon, he said, it is not denuclearization at all.
Vershbow was asked repeatedly about the possibility of President George W. Bush visiting North Korea and whether four-party summit talks could be held between South Korea, North Korea, the U.S. and China. He answered that both events should be understood as a final celebration of successful negotiations only at the end of the denuclearization process. Asked if a Bush visit to North Korea and a four-party summit might induce Kim Jong-il to stay on course for denuclearization, he responded again that the time for summit talks is not at the beginning but at the end of the process. This is the position of the United States.
The reason why I mention Vershbow’s remarks during that rainy day at Hwa-gye Temple, is to awaken President Roh Moo-hyun and his staff, who have the idea that an inter-Korean or a four-party summit is near. This is a naive idea put forward by those who do not understand the issues.
The agreement reached on Feb. 13 with North Korea was only the first fumbling step forward after the severe setback of the Banco Delta Asia mess in Macao. If Roh and his advisers attempt to exploit the future destiny of our nation with a hurried summit in order to boost their side in the presidential election, that would be the ultimate in political depravity.
Denuclearization is a three-step process for Pyongyang: (a) shut down its Yongbyon reactor and resume inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, (b) deactivate all nuclear facilities and (c) discard all nuclear weapons.
North Korea may proceed smoothly through the second stage ― deactivating nuclear facilities. However, many difficulties are expected between deactivation and the total removal of nuclear weapons. North Korea will divide the steps between stage two and stage three into many smaller steps and demand an enormous payoff for each small move forward. This is their so-called salami strategy, slicing progress into small pieces.
Denuclearization and real peace on the Korean Peninsula is a marathon, not a 100-meter dash. Besides, North Korea has no intention of discussing the final end of the Korean War or denuclearization with South Korea. For the North, South Korea is simply a source of aid. There is no logic to hurrying for political reasons, and the Grand National Party even welcoming an inter-Korean summit is hilarious.
It is not that we must avoid summit talks, but the problem is the timing and preconditions. A summit with Kim Jong-il should not be made to fit into partisan plans for the presidential election. It must be based on what has been achieved in terms of the September 2005 declaration and the Feb. 13 agreement.
We suffered a painful backlash seven years ago when President Kim Dae-jung adjusted the timing of the the first inter-Korean summit talks to fit the assessment schedule of the Nobel Peace Prize. The announcement of the talks then was also made with an eye on the April 13 general elections.
These past mistakes must be remembered as we prepare for the future. Roh should remember the wrongs of the Kim administration and ask the real purpose of a summit.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-hie