[Viewpoint]]Approaching the new North

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[Viewpoint]]Approaching the new North

A few days ago, newspapers published a photo of Sung Kim, director of the Korean Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of State, crossing the border at Panmunjum (Demilitarized Zone), carrying a pile of documents on the North s nuclear program provided by Pyongyang.
It was a symbolic moment of change for the Korean Peninsula. Many small drops can make a flood, and it feels like Korea is slowly getting drenched with the rains marking the end of the Cold War.
The negotiations on the North Korean nuclear program seem intent on resolving the plutonium issue before Washington and Pyongyang tackle challenging subjects such as uranium enrichment and nuclear technology transfer to Syria.
From the North s position, the Yongbyon facility is already obsolete and deserted, and since it must hold a few nuclear weapons by now, Pyongyang still has more cards to play.
From the United States point of view, it can remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and still retain many means to pressure the North.
If the plutonium program and the Yongbyon facilities are abandoned first, Washington can advertise it as a diplomatic achievement of the Bush Administration.
As the interests of the two parties coincide, Pyongyang and Washington are improving their relationship.
In fact, since the Cold War ended between the United States and the Soviet Union, North Korea has been asking Washington to improve relations whenever it got a chance.
In January 1992, Arnold Kanter and Kim Yong-sun had the first official high-level meeting between the North and the United States.
Kim Yong-sun reportedly suggested that North Korea could recognize the presence of the U.S. forces in South Korea and become an ally of the United States.
However, the political winds were not conducive to drastic measures to end the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula at the time, and Korea and the United States were not ready either.
Sixteen years and two nuclear crises later, North Korea is gradually achieving its goal of improving relations with the United States.
Now the problem is the inter-Korean relationship. In the Lee Myung-bak administration, official talks have been severed, and even with the North facing a serious famine, Pyongyang has not asked for food assistance from the South.
Meanwhile, the North and the U.S. are improving their relationship, and there are concerned voices that South Korea might become isolated.
Therefore, we must contemplate the essence of the situation and respond carefully.
North Korea will try to maximize its interests by going between the United States and China just as it did at a time of friction between China and the Soviet Union.
Also, as we have seen so many times in the past, it will pursue dialogue with the United States and ignore the South.
By getting close to the United States, it will keep the South in check and attempt to take the leading role on the Korean Peninsula.
It is likely to use the South as a target to revive its economy and bring political unity internally.
At this juncture, how should we respond? We saw during the presidential and general elections that the public wants inter-Korean cooperation yet hopes to attain it based on certain principles.
I believe we should act according to the principle of improving the life of each person in the North.
In other words, we should not be unconditionally swept up by what North Korean political leaders say to the South, Koreans are one race.
Instead, all cooperation should be connected to the universal value of helping North Koreans attain their right to live with dignity.
If North Korea attempts to improve its relationship with the United States to survive, there will be no grounds in the South for anti-American sentiment by saying the United States refuses to accept our brothers in the North.
If even Pyongyang wants to ride the tide of globalization led by the United States, those who oppose the Korea-U.S. FTA will lose moral standing on the grounds that they want to establish the South-North economic community on the Korean Peninsula.
What would be the best approach to the need for humanitarian food assistance to North Korea?
If the livelihood of North Koreans is the priority of the North Korea policy, direct assistance is not the only way.
So far, we have provided several million tons of food but have no way to make sure that the food is delivered to people who need it.
Maybe it would be a good idea to go through the World Food Program and other international organizations that already have monitoring mechanisms for food distribution in place.
We shouldn t be so nervous about the rapid progress between North Korea and the United States.
Instead, we need to welcome change while building more trust with the United States.
Fortunately, civilian economic cooperation and humanitarian assistance are in progress, and official channels will open in the end.
Our goal should be helping North Koreans attain their human rights beyond the narrow limits of ethnic nationalism.
This is a peace strategy for the Korean Peninsula that corresponds to the spirit of the times.

*The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Young-kwan
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