[Outlook]Still room for dialogue with North

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[Outlook]Still room for dialogue with North

The United Nations Security Council regarded North Korea’s recent rocket launch as an attempt to test a long-range missile - although the communist state claimed it was a satellite - and condemned the move. The UN decided to strengthen sanctions on the country, which include freezing its assets and limiting travel.

In response, North Korea said it will not participate in the six-party talks. Instead, it actually now plans to enhance its nuclear deterrent. Officials also said the North would look into building a light-water nuclear power plant. North Korea has already ordered American nuclear experts and staff from the International Atomic Energy Agency who have been working to disable the Yongbyon nuclear facility to leave the country.

If this is just a shock strategy that North Korea is using to gain an advantage, there can be a new phase for negotiations after a cooling-off period. North Korea is likely to keep creating crises and fighting against expanded sanctions, compelling the international community to choose between nuclear proliferation or negotiation.

If brinkmanship fails, North Korea will probably use nuclear weapons and missiles as a military deterrent in order to survive on its own. There is a possibility that North Korea will seek survival by maintaining its traditional friendly relations with China and Russia while abandoning efforts to compromise with the United States, Japan and South Korea, if it judges that this is a better way to protect its regime. But it will be difficult for Pyongyang to ignore efforts by China and Russia to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

After North Korea’s rocket launch, it can be said that the standing of these matters on the Korean Peninsula depends on U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration’s North Korea policy.

North Korea showed its missile card in a pre-emptive bid to increase its negotiating power. But the United States thinks it has North Korea’s threats under control and seems to be telling the communist country to present all the cards it can show.

The crisis can ease into dialogue if Washington seeks fundamental resolution along with sanctions to prevent proliferation.

But if Washington uses North Korea’s threats as a cause to build a missile defense system, as the former George W. Bush administration did, conflict between Pyongyang and Washington will swell.

One might be able to predict Washington’s North Korea policy based on its conciliatory attitude on Iran and Cuba.

At this point, prospects will depend mostly on Pyongyang’s attitude.

Since North Korea’s nuclear test, the six-party talks have helped advance what was decided at bilateral talks. Therefore, it is unlikely that any of the countries in the talks take North Korea’s declaration to ignore the six-party talks seriously.

It is also true that the talks’ driving force has diminished significantly since political power shifted in South Korea and the United States. If North Korea can have discussions with the Obama administration, it will use participation in the six-party talks as a card in negotiations.

The Obama administration pursues strong and direct diplomacy, but its North Korea policy isn’t quite concrete. Since proliferation of weapons of mass destruction cannot be allowed, the United States will try to have bilateral negotiations with North Korea, as Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, has said. Washington hopes that Pyongyang will not worsen the situation.

If Washington and Pyongyang agree on a comprehensive approach, something like a second Perry process, the six-party talks will restore its status as a format for multilateral collaboration to pursue denuclearization, support the North’s economy, provide energy assistance and establish a peaceful regime.

As the South Korean administration has decided to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, the future of inter-Korean relations is unlikely to smooth out anytime soon. As North Korea said earlier, it regards South Korea’s decision to join the PSI as a declaration of war, and it has said it will take a resolute measure immediately. So naturally we are nervous.

The South Korean government must have judged that it is inevitable to join the PSI to abide by international norms when North Korea launched a rocket, but North Korea’s resistance won’t be easy to handle.

The South Korean government must concentrate on managing a crisis rather than restoring inter-Korean relations.

The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Koh Yu-hwan
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