Clinton visit a turning point?Former United States President Bill Clinton visited North Korea on Tuesday to meet with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il. North Korean press reported that the two leaders had a broad conversation on matters of mutual interest.
It is the second time that a former U.S. president has visited Pyongyang - Jimmy Carter flew to the communist country in 1994 as tensions over the North’s nuclear ambitions flared.
Now, watching another unexpected visit unfold, we have worries as well as high expectations.
As a White House spokesman revealed, the official goal of Clinton’s visit to North Korea was to negotiate the release of two American journalists who had been detained there for five months.
Despite the U.S. government’s policy of separating humanitarian affairs from nuclear issues when it comes to the North, we cannot help but attempt to read into Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang. The current situation with the North is very serious, and Clinton’s presence carries with it some hefty weight. Insecurity in Pyongyang is at a recent high, as Kim Jong-il’s health condition has deteriorated, moving succession issues to the forefront.
With this as the background, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test and fired numerous missiles into the ocean, escalating tensions in the region.
Accordingly, the United States, together with the international community, has been tightening sanctions on North Korea.
It is very meaningful that Washington and Pyongyang agreed, through under-the-table negotiations, that such a symbolic and influential figure as former President Clinton should visit Pyongyang.
The United States has been putting pressure on the North, but it is also offering carrots.
At the same time, North Korea has been pushing the necessity of high-ranking dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
We truly hope that Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang will help lead to dialogue instead of confrontation. His visit could indeed serve as the turning point in the impasse with the North. However, the United States and indeed, the world, must look to avoid the mistakes of the past, when they blindly pursued dialogue and ended up falling right into the hands of the North.
Therefore, both sanctions and dialogue must continue.
Under the principle that a nuclear-armed North Korea can never be accepted, the United States must consult closely with its allies, including South Korea and Japan.
Our government must assess the situation accurately and prepare a foundation to improve relations with the North. It should work together with Washington to analyze the impact of former President Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang.
If necessary, President Lee Myung-bak can then make some bold suggestions to improve inter-Korean relations in his speech celebrating Liberation Day on Aug. 15.