[Viewpoint]Obama and the NorthThe Korean media is as focused on the incoming Obama administration’s policy direction in the United States as on the aftermath of the financial crisis. Korea seems to be swayed by fragmentary news from Washington, as if it were actual policy.
Some say the Obama administration will send a special envoy to North Korea within 100 days of its inauguration and has a road map for diplomatic relations and a peace treaty without denuclearization.
But those who spread this rumor have added their wishful thinking; they warn that the Korean government will soon be on the outs with the U.S. because of President Lee Myung-bak’s hard-line position.
President-elect Barack Obama is announcing appointment decisions for major positions.
Former Clinton administration officials will likely take important posts in foreign policy and security areas.
Hillary Clinton, who was Obama’s strongest rival in the Democratic primary, is set to be named secretary of state, and former State Secretary Madeleine Albright and former North Korea policy coordinator Wendy Sherman are also expected to serve in the administration.
Obama is appointing realists with experience instead of those who share his ideals. His decisions reflect an awareness that the current foreign policy and diplomatic circumstances leave no room for America to experiment.
Obama’s transition team recently announced on its official home page the Obama-Biden Plan under the administration’s foreign policy agenda.
The plan included a separate section for Iran, proposing specific rewards and promising “tough and direct diplomacy” to pursue nuclear abandonment. However, the plan includes no specific policy regarding North Korea other than stating, “Obama and Biden will crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.”
Of course, “tough and direct diplomacy” is expected to be applied to North Korea as the administration’s general foreign policy doctrine, and North Korea will be approached similarly as Iran.
In fact, the Sept. 19 Joint Statement of the six-party talks includes signing a peace treaty ending the Korean War, North Korea forming a diplomatic relationship with the United States and Japan, economic and energy assistance and security cooperation in Northeast Asia in return for verifiable dismantlement of all nuclear programs, including nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration’s North Korea policy direction is not likely to deviate much from the principles followed during the second Bush administration, which has pursued direct negotiations within the framework of the six-party talks.
The Obama-Biden Plan makes no specific mention of North Korea not because the North Korean issue lacks importance but out of consideration. It wants to avoid confusion in ongoing North Korean nuclear negotiations and keep from providing the North reasons to break with the six-party talks.
Naturally, a Democratic government’s North Korea policy will be undeniably different from that of a Republican government.
In retrospect, the Bush administration’s last eight years have been hard-line only in words. In fact, Washington took no action when Pyongyang launched the Daepodong missile, conducted a nuclear test and transferred nuclear technology to Syria.
What would a Democratic government have done? If Al Gore had become president in 2001, how would he have responded when North Korea was found to have developed nuclear weapons using uranium enrichment? The Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry, said that if negotiation failed, the use of force was an option. Former secretary of defense William Perry, who guided North Korea policy during the Clinton administration, advocated bombing the Yongbyon nuclear facility when North Korea conducted nuclear experiments in October 2006.
While the Bush administration did not set a clear limit to its patience, a Democratic administration has a clear line and a Plan B - using pressure when negotiations fail.
While the Obama administration has a firm resolve to pursue serious and direct negotiations, it is very strict on following the principle of nuclear nonproliferation.
If North Korea makes a strategic decision to give up its nuclear program, the Obama administration has a great chance to advance peace on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang should not even think about resorting to brinkmanship to threaten a new administration as it did in the past.
The young leader with little foreign policy experience is likely to respond drastically to such a provocation. He will not start off his presidency seeming vulnerable.
*The writer is a professor of politics at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yun Duk-min