[Viewpoint]What Condi can doSouth Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il released a 10-point joint declaration during the first inter-Korean summit in seven years, held from Oct. 2 to 4.
Washington’s response to the latest summit was lukewarm at best. Nonetheless, this may be a time for the Bush administration to make up for the mess in Iraq. Perhaps U.S. Secretary of the State Condoleezza Rice could start packing her bags to meet with the notorious leader herself within six months.
Seven years ago, I wrote a book about the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. And from what I can tell this time, the latest summit between the two Koreas is, in fact, a “love letter” Kim Jong-il is sending to Washington.
Back in the early ’90s, the Pyongyang leadership, which has endured the Cold War regime since the 1953 Korean War armistice, came to decide on an important strategic step. With the Soviet Union, the regime’s biggest sponsor gone, their fate now lay in walking a tightrope between Washington and Beijing. It was between 1994 and 2000 that the North’s strategy started to take place.
Note that back in 1994 when the United States and North Korea first concluded the Agreed Framework, the deal too addressed not only the issue of the North’s nuclear program but also considerations to lift economic sanctions and improve diplomatic ties between the two nations.
Following the agreement, the North’s leader then hosted the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 and four months later, sent his right-hand man, Jo Myong-rok, to the White House to pursue similar high-level talks with the United States.
Kim’s efforts ended in vain, however, as the Clinton administration ran out of time and a new administration took its place a few months later. North Korea had to wait seven long years for another chance, enduring insults like being named to an “axis of evil.” Had a U.S.-North Korea summit taken place as planned, the North would have never tinkered with nuclear weapons and Kim Jong-il would have certainly fared much better than he is today.
Now North Korea is back to carrying out the same strategy once more. Kim Jong-il just held a summit with President Roh, whose tenure was ending in less than three months. This alone suggests that the North’s move is aimed more toward Washington than Seoul.
The Bush administration still has at least 15 months to go. Note that Pyongyang has lately dispatched its taekwondo team to the United States and invited the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to Pyongyang.
Since there is no private sector in the North to arrange such exchanges, the gesture can only be seen as political. The only difference between the Chinese ping-pong policy of the ’70s and the negotiation over the North’s nuclear program is that its leader happens to be a lover of music and chose an orchestra rather than sports. Secretary Rice should not miss this chance to resolve the nuclear issue.
Here are some tips on what Rice could do. First, prepare a bigger “carrot” to attract the North. The measure to remove Pyongyang from the U.S. list of terror-supporting states may be good enough for disabling a nuclear program, but is not enough to completely dismantle all programs. She should prepare a bigger card such as arranging a foreign minister-level meeting or even the North’s long-sought U.S.-North Korea summit.
Second, it wouldn’t hurt for the Bush administration to watch its words about the North. For example, North Korea may be tyrannical but it certainly is not the kind to export “terror” and “revolution” like Iran. It was a mistake to include North Korea to the “axis of evil” in the first place. Every little action counts.
Third, Rice could consider maintaining even closer coordination with Seoul. This is because the only way to truly resolve the remaining Cold War tension and the nuclear issue is through close cooperation between the two Koreas as well as between the United States and the North. Seoul already recognizes Pyongyang’s intentions and seems ready to take action accordingly. In contrast, Washington seems to view the second summit as a distant affair.
Secretary Rice should see the second inter-Korean summit as Washington’s achievement. I believe Rice could still score big in diplomatic affairs during her tenure, but the opportunity lies not in Iraq but on the Korean Peninsula.
by Brent Choi