Peace as ultimate prizeIn his first high-profile meeting with North Korean officials, President Lee Myung-bak stressed that there were no problems the South and North cannot work out if they address them with “sincerity” through dialogue. Kim Ki-nam, a senior official of the North’s Workers’ Party leading a delegation to attend the late former President Kim Dae-jung’s state funeral, conveyed North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s verbal message desiring “progress in inter-Korean cooperation” while adding he, too, hoped the two Koreas can work together to resolve bilateral issues.
The meeting, the first government-level dialogue since the Lee administration took power 18 months ago, was arranged at the request of the visiting delegation. The delegation that flew into Seoul for the Sunday funeral took procedures as special envoys by first meeting the unification minister and then visiting the president. The presidential office, on the outside, played down the significance of the half-hour meeting, which took place hours before the funeral, saying that it was a part of the president’s reception of foreign VIP guests to the state funeral, but informally hinted that a “paradigm shift” in inter-Korean relations may be on the horizon. While admitting the meeting was a stepping stone for future relations, neither of the two Koreas appear ready to be first to ease the psychological tug of war.
We bear new hopes for future inter-Korean talks, including an upcoming Red Cross meeting to discuss reunions of separated families in the Korean War (1950-1953). But there must be principles. President Lee and North Korean envoy Kim both agreed on the need for “sincere dialogue” and “cooperation.” We also believe that if the two sides are sincere about talks and cooperation, we can overcome just about any problem.
Unequivocally, the most urgent problem is the North’s nuclear program. In the past, the North has consistently brushed aside the South in talks related to the nuclear problem, saying the issue was a matter between the North and the United States. Past government policies on the North have contentiously swayed between hawks and doves due largely to the North’s gambling with its nuclear campaign. Inter-Korean relations cannot move forward unless the North stops using the nuclear option as a threat to the South and neighboring countries.
We assume the message President Lee has conveyed back to Pyongyang is that the South will provide radical aid if there is progress in denuclearization talks. The North has recently veered from military threats and belligerent attacks to conciliatory and peaceful gestures, but we hope peace is the North’s ultimate motive.