[Viewpoint]A warm wind blowsA group of North Korean taekwondo athletes are visiting the United States now. Eighteen North Korean atheletes will give exhibitions of the martial art during a 14-day tour of five major U.S. cities, starting with Los Angeles. American spectators applaud and sigh in admiration whenever the Northerners show off their taekwondo skills.
In December, the New York Philharmonic, the oldest active symphony orchestra in the United States, is expected to visit Pyongyang. A delegation from the orchestra has already visited the North to prepare for the concert.
For purposes of formality, the visit is coming at the invitation of North Korea’s Culture Ministry, but it is said that the State Department has played a role as an intermediary.
They say that Kim Jong-il, the chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea, loves Western classical music.
A balmy wind is blowing in U.S.-North Korea relations.
The agreement to disable North Korea’s nuclear development program is about to enter the implementation stage, so U.S. President George W. Bush has approved the budget for supplying 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea.
It is also rumored that Washington wants to provide food aid to North Korea on a large scale.
Recently, Pak Gil Yon, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, gave a lecture at Harvard University.
Kim Myong Gil, a minister at North Korea’s UN mission, took a family trip to Washington. Such events were unimaginable a year ago.
On Oct. 9 of last year, North Korea dared to test a nuclear weapon, shocking the whole world.
Six days later, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718 to sanction North Korea. Even China and Russia joined the international response. The belief that North Korea was on the road to self-destruction was the prevailing opinion in the international community.
Along with the sentiment that the collapse of the North Korean regime was a matter of time, there was even a report saying the United States and China had started secret discussions about overthrowing the Kim Jong-il regime. North Korea and the United States were like two trains running on a collision course.
However, drastic changes soon occurred. President Bush had once criticized North Korea as a member of the “axis of evil” and followed the principle that “the United States does not have direct conversations with rogue regimes.” President Bush reversed those positions following the nuclear test. He allowed the State Department to engage in a direct dialogue with North Korea, and unbelievable changes have started to occur.
In retrospect, the thaw in relations was due to the complicated interaction of various factors, including the mid-term election defeat of the Republican Party in November of last year, the worsening situation in Iraq and the need to accomplish a diplomatic achievement before President Bush’s term of office ends.
It was a shocking change of direction and surely made such neo-conservatives as Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former UN Ambassador John Bolton feel betrayed.
The idea that President Bush has in his mind has now become clear.
He is telling North Korea it will only be a matter of time before Pyongyang-Washington relations are normalized and a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is established, as long as Kim Jong-il makes the strategic decision to completely give up his country’s nuclear weapons development programs.
President Bush’s message to the North is very clear. The ball is now in Kim Jong-il’s court.
Is Kim Jong-il determined to give up all of the nuclear development programs, including the existing nuclear weapons, the detonation devices and about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of plutonium North Korea has extracted from used fuel rods so far? Is he ready to persuade the hardliners in the North’s military?
Many people still cast suspicious eyes on him. They also think the possibility is great that Washington will be tricked by the North, in a way that will help extend the life of Kim Jong-il’s regime.
However, it is a misjudgment to believe nuclear weapons guarantee the security of the North Korean regime.
Kim Jong-il should realize that the security of his regime can be more safely guaranteed by giving up all of his nuclear weapons development programs. That is how Kim, as well as North Korea, can survive. The rewards for the dismantlement of nuclear programs are unimaginably large.
Kim Jong-il can stay in power until the end of his lifetime. North Korea can revive its economy by introducing overseas capital from South Korea, the United States and Japan, etc., to feed its starving citizens.
Giving up nuclear development programs will allow North Korea to maintain its system with stability. For Kim Jong-il, nuclear weapons are nothing but useless, expensive accessories.
Kim has a golden opportunity. If he loses this chance, the balmy wind will turn to a cold north winter wind. Afterward, it would be pointless to regret lost opportunities.
In the early 1970s, the United States and China held a summit meeting less than 10 months after they began their “ping-pong diplomacy.”
Culture and sports diplomacy between North Korea and the United States must begin.
The Pyongyang concert of the New York Philharmonic should become a concert held in celebration of Kim Jong-il’s bold decision to give up all of his nuclear development programs. The time for the truth is approaching.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok