[Outlook]Denuclearization before peaceU.S. President George W. Bush wrote a letter to Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea. It is a significant change, considering that Bush previously ignored the North and even called it part of the “axis of evil.” Some predict that a way to end the Korean War, which President Roh Moo-hyun has pushed for, could be found sooner than expected. But preconditions that Bush suggested for that to happen have not been met.
Why did Bush write a letter to Kim? It seems clear that he wants to make a breakthrough in implementing the February 13 agreement, which still hasn’t been carried out to a significant degree. It seems inevitable that North Korea’s report on its nuclear program will not meet the year-end deadline. Another reason for the letter was that Bush wanted to make clear what Washington wants from Pyongyang.
Roh told Kim that he would push for an agreement ending the Korean War between South and North Korea, the United States and China before the nuclear issue is resolved. Bush needs to make sure that this does not stop Kim from implementing the agreement. The letter also reminded Kim of agreements made during the six-party talks held on Sep. 6, 2005, which was before North Korea carried out a nuclear test. The principles behind it were dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons, respect for North Korea’s sovereignty and nonaggression. If those conditions are met, there will be no need to announce an end to the war.
A joint press conference during the summit meeting between Roh and Bush in Sydney, Australia, last September was strained because of these differences. Bush said whether the Korean War ends or not is up to Kim Jong-il. Roh’s response to that was translated as, “Please be a little bit clearer in your message.” Then Bush said, “I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President.”
That was an unusually disagreeable moment for a summit meeting. How did this incident happen? It goes back to a summit between South Korea and the United States in November 2006 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Bush first suggested an announcement ending the Korean War. But Roh skipped over an important condition for the deal when he delivered the message to Kim Jong-il ― North Korea’s denuclearization. Bush stressed that he could support a peace treaty only if North Korea gives up its nuclear program. A senior official said that Bush even agreed to sit with Kim Jong-il to announce the termination of the war if the preconditions were met.
On Oct. 4, on his way home from Pyongyang, Roh told Kim Jong-il what Bush had suggested. Kim suggested the South could make some effort to make it happen. The precondition of North Korea’s denuclearization was skipped. Roh kept urging Washington to sign an agreement to end the war.
Right after the summit between South and North Korea, South Korea’s presidential secretary for national security went to Washington, and on Nov. 7, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon followed to persuade Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to support the deal. But Roh’s suggestion was not accepted.
Days later, on Nov. 13, President Roh expressed discomfort, saying that it was a hard problem to solve because one side wants a peace regime first, followed by the dismantling of nuclear weapons, while the other side wants the nuclear weapons dismantled before establishing a peace regime.
Early this month, the presidential chief secretary for national security and his aide went to the United States again. But Secretary of State Rice gave them the same answer. So Bush wrote a letter to Kim in an attempt to avoid further confusion over the announcement to end the Korean War.
North Korea’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons has just begun. North Korea maintains that already existing nuclear weapons are not subject to the report. It says it cannot say how many of them it has. It maintains that there is no uranium enrichment program. North Korea also says the aluminum tubes that it smuggled into the country were for producing missiles, so they do not need to be reported.
Many other obstacles also lie ahead, such as disposing of used fuel rods, dismantling nuclear weapons and discarding facilities and equipment for enriching uranium.
A peace treaty should include not only an announcement ending the war but also a declaration of peace, the setting up of territorial boundaries and the normalization of diplomatic relations. In his letter, Bush reconfirmed that a peace treaty and normalization of ties could be achieved if North Korea gives up its nuclear program.
Why does the South Korean administration want to announce the end of the war before North Korea gives up its nuclear ambition?
*The writer is an international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook