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At the second session of working-level talks about normalizing relations between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang agreed to disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year and declare all of its nuclear programs in return for a U.S. agreement to take political and economic measures, such as removing North Korea from the list of sponsors of terrorism and deleting it from the Trading with the Enemy Act.
After the United States agreed to change its existing policy of hostility toward North Korea and provide systemic and legal measures to establish a peace regime, the normalization talks between the two countries started to progress quickly.
President George W. Bush showed confidence in solving the North Korean nuclear issue within his term of office, saying he’d made up his mind to do so.
At a working level meeting held right afterward, both sides gave assurances they would fully implement the agreement signed on Feb. 13 this year. Thus, the bilateral talks have begun to set sail.
Because things have begun to go smoothly, I am starting to think the comments of Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Korea, are not just diplomatic rhetoric. He said, “A historic change, like the big bang, can take place in U.S.-North Korea relations next year.”
That is because the Bush administration, which is mired in the Iraq war, is desperate to peacefully settle the North Korean nuclear issue, making it a top diplomatic achievement.
After North Korea test-fired a nuclear bomb in October of last year, the issue of security on the Korean Peninsula became transitional.
The test was the last brinksmanship card played by North Korea, which hoped to strike a deal with the United States by exposing its nuclear card ― even crossing over the previous line, in which it kept on neither confirming nor denying that it had nuclear weapons. By testing a nuclear bomb, North Korea forced the rest of the world to choose to either allow nuclear proliferation or negotiate with them. The world watched North Korea’s nuclear test in shock, then concluded the country should not be allowed to be armed with nuclear weapons.
The North’s neighboring countries in Northeast Asia, including South Korea, came to realize that North Korea’s nuclear test was a direct threat to their national security and the Bush administration was driven to a corner. It had to admit the non-proliferation policy was a failure. President Bush, in order to dampen international criticism, hurriedly expressed his willingness to declare “the end of the Korean War” with North Korea at the U.S.-Korean summit meeting in November of last year. The declaration implies that the United States is ready to provide the North with a reason to give up its nuclear program and push the North to denuclearize soon.
In January of this year, North Korea and the United States met in Berlin and discussed issues pending between the two countries after the North’s nuclear test.
Soon afterward, they resumed the six-party talks and produced an agreement on Feb. 13. It is an agreement about the simultaneous action that both sides will take, instead of insisting on the conventional position of the United States -- the dismantlement of nuclear programs first, no direct talks between the United States and North Korea and no rewards for the North’s misconduct, including its nuclear arms program.
The implementation of the agreement was delayed for a considerable period of time due to problems related to the transfer of North Korean funds frozen at the Banco Delta Asia in Macao. As soon as the problem was sorted out, however, U.S.-North Korea relations started to make fast progress and Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, visited Pyongyang in June.
North Korea may have accepted the proposal for a second inter-Korean summit meeting out of consideration that it can use the summit meeting as a stepping stone to declare the end of the Korean War that Bush proposed. In order to dissolve hostile relations between the United States and North Korea within President Bush’s term, North Korea may want to declare peace on the Korean Peninsula at the inter-Korean summit. And, in the bigger picture, the North may want to declare the end of the Korean War at a summit meeting among the heads of state of North Korea, the United States and South Korea, or at a summit meeting with four heads of state, including the leader of China.
When the end of the Korean War is declared, it is highly likely that North Korea will dissolve hostile relations with the United States, adopt reforms and open-door policies and become an active member of international society.
North Korea’s National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il will try to change his image from the leader of a rogue country to that of a leading country in the world.
There is a possibility that North Korea’s leadership, which succeeded in changing its position in the world through the shock therapy of firing missiles and the testing of a nuclear bomb, may confirm its strategic decision to discard its nuclear program if hostile relations with the United States are dissolved through the U.S.-North Korea summit talks.
With the rapid progress of U.S.-North Korea relations, people are worried about whether the South Korean government is losing its initiative in solving the problems of the Korean Peninsula.
To wipe out such worries, the government must make thorough preparations for the South-North Korean summit meeting scheduled in early October, concentrating efforts on providing ways to solve inter-Korean problems through inter-Korean cooperation.

*The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Koh Yu-hwan
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