Be clear on North’s nukesNorth Korea and the United States had in-depth discussions in Geneva last weekend regarding the North’s nuclear programs. U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill said he had “useful and substantive” talks with his counterpart, Kim Gye-gwan. Kim also said the talks were “satisfying.” No tangible agreements were made but it seems that the two made a certain level of progress during the talks.
The six-party talks where South Korea is taking part have become something of a place to approve the negotiations between the two nations. As a result, the Korean government has become extremely sensitive regarding the outcome after each U.S.-North Korea talk to see if there will be any discussions that may hamper our interest.
Such concerns are not groundless. After the 1994 Geneva Agreement, the Washington disregarded Seoul’s suggestion that Washington-Pyongyang relations should not be ahead of Seoul-Washington relations. The working-level talks in March 2007 aimed at normalizing Washington-Pyongyang relations was no different. Back then, U.S. authorities indicated that they may allow North Korea to own nuclear programs, as long as the North does not move them out of the country, demonstrating that Washington may prioritize its own interest over Seoul’s.
In that sense, the way that Seoul handles Pyongyang’s nuclear programs is quite disappointing. Seoul diplomats and negotiators formerly in charge of the talks with Pyongyang bid farewell to their foreign counterparts a long time ago, but naming their successors has been long delayed. This delay raises a question: Does this administration really intend to move forward with the nuclear talks? Few comments were made on North Korea issues during the Foreign Ministry’s progress report to President Lee Myung-bak, again highlighting the government’s indifference to the issue.
The official comments the administration has made so far “Improved Seoul-Washington relations will also improve South-North relations,” or “We will offer aid once the North abandons its nuclear programs” couldn’t be vaguer.
Needless to say, no North Korean nuclear program is acceptable. But the real situation is never that simple because it is evident the North will not give up its nuclear programs. Washington is demanding the complete dismantling of the nuclear programs, but no one knows if that stance will last forever.
Now is the time for the Korean government to show a clearer stance. There is no time for the administration to waste.