[Viewpoint] Foolish posturing leading nowhere

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[Viewpoint] Foolish posturing leading nowhere

“North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long-range missile,” said United States President Barack Obama in Prague, the fourth stop in his first tour of Europe in April, where he launched the first steps of a global effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He chose the beautiful city of Prague in the heart of Europe to propose nuclear armament reductions. He hoped other nuclear powers would listen to him

North Korea successfully drew attention to Obama’s speech. By launching a rocket right before the address, Obama’s proposal to reduce nuclear weapons sounded more realistic and convincing. Wendy Sherman, adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, commented that Pyongyang gave a big gift to President Obama with the rocket launch.

When, as a presidential candidate, Obama repeatedly said he would talk with rogue nations, he did not have a specific plan for North Korea. Until the Prague speech, the State Department had yet to complete the Obama administration’s East Asia policy team.

With the rocket launch on April 5, Pyongyang left a clear impression to Obama that it is a country that pursues weapons of mass destruction, a country that wants to maintain its system with nuclear weapons, and a backward country that hopes to bolster its economy by exporting weapons and missiles. Having made such an impression, now Pyongyang makes pathetic complaints about the Obama administration not initiating contact.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a presidential statement, reinforcing sanctions on North Korea, in response to the North’s rocket launch. That prompted Pyongyang to threaten to resume nuclear experiments, long range ballistic missile development, and resume uranium enrichment unless the UN Security Council apologizes.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang detained a South Korean worker at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and arrested two American reporters at the Chinese border and threatened to put them to trial. It might be too gentlemanly to call these acts a series of foolish mistakes.

Kim Jong-il must be desperate.

He is not in the best of health, and the system he helped build is unstable. He wants to hand down the power of the Kim Il Sung Dynasty to one of his sons, but none of the three sons is fit to be the crown prince. The grand plan to become a “strong and prosperous” country by 2012 gave priority to the military, so Kim Jong-il is concerned about enlarging the influence of the military.

North Korea is trying to resolve economic and other systemic issues at the same time it attempts to deal with the United States. In return for giving up, or freezing, nuclear and missile programs, North Korea can receive economic assistance and resolve its economic issues. If Pyongyang reaches general agreements through dialogue with Washington and then includes Seoul and Beijing to sign a peace treaty, Kim Jong-il will be able to secure his country’s system to pass down to the next generation.

And if Pyongyang has such a plan, the first thing it should do is to invite Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration’s special representative for North Korea policy, and discuss the scope, schedule and agenda of the Pyongyang-Washington dialogue. But the opposite is happening. North Korea has denied Bosworth a visit to Pyongyang.

Pyongyang’s blindness is revealed by its failure to notice the uncomfortable Korea-U.S. relations during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations and the cozy atmosphere today with the Lee Myung-bak administration.

President Obama trusts President Lee Myung-bak. No matter what Washington discusses with Pyongyang, the United States will never skip consulting with South Korea. There won’t be any unilateralism like a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State’s visit to Pyongyang where he obtained access to information on its highly enriched uranium-based nuclear weapons development project, leading to a nuclear crisis.

“Talk with the U.S., isolate the South,” is a tactic that belongs to a museum. North Korea must realize that inter-Korean talks are a catalyst to North Korea-U.S. dialogue.

President Obama is willing to talk with Cuba, Iran, Syria and even the Taliban. North Korea is no exception. If the United States excludes the North, it’s an outcome that Pyongyang will have brought upon itself. It is lucky for Pyongyang to deal with someone like Obama, who is friendly to Asia, as the president of the United States. North Korea needs to stop its foolish march under the banner of nuclear weapons and missile threats. The North’s foolish march will just lead to another experiment with nuclear weapons and missiles. Pyongyang should invite Stephen Bosworth to visit and come back to the six-party talks.

Seoul should help Pyongyang make the right choice. Seoul can help Pyongyang make a reasonable choice by postponing its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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