[Viewpoint] Desperate need for talks

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[Viewpoint] Desperate need for talks

Lately, Pyongyang has shown signs that it might want to resume inter-Korean dialogue. North Korea has agreed with Hyundai Asan on five inter-Korean exchange and cooperation clauses for civilians, including the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tours.

Pyongyang also sent a special delegation to mourn the death of former President Kim Dae-jung.

How should we interpret Pyongyang’s change of attitude from consistently stubborn refusal to talk to the Lee Myung-bak administration to sudden enthusiasm for dialogue?

By alternating between hard-line and appeasement policies, Pyongyang hopes to attain its strategic goals. The test launch of mid- and long-range missiles as well as nuclear experiments are the most notorious hard-line moves to secure powerful military means.

The completion of mid- and long-range nuclear missile development has been the North’s primary strategic goal. Pyongyang has constantly made efforts to attain the ultimate goal of completing strategic nuclear missiles while dodging sanctions and acquiring compensation through negotiations.

However, the Obama administration seems to see through Pyongyang’s tactics. Some U.S. officials are not so eager as before to embrace the nuclear negotiations initiated by the North.

Therefore, it is unlikely that direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington will see much progress. It seems that Washington hopes to include North Korea in the six-party talks and pursue multilateral talks and sanctions in parallel in order to encourage the North to abandon its nuclear program.

Seoul’s response to Pyongyang’s inviting gestures for inter-Korean talks needs to be similarly focused.

Of course, inter-Korean relations are certainly different from diplomatic relations between other countries.

However, when such a relationship has both positive and negative sides to it, a policy that emphasizes the unique qualities of the relationship might be risky.

For example, we can’t deny we need a policy that prioritizes the interests of the Korean people since the two Koreas are essentially one nation divided in two.

However, any “anti-American” claim for “national cooperation” that in any way denies the Korea-United States relationship is nothing but negative.

That’s why we need to be careful when implementing the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 Declaration. We must not overlook the fact that Pyongyang puts the June 15 Joint Declaration on par with the “Korean only” spirit and abuses it to spread anti-American sentiment in the South.

Therefore, we need to encourage Pyongyang to break away from narrow nationalism and political intentions in the two declarations and pursue more substantial inter-Korean exchanges.

The North Korean special delegation is said to have mentioned a need for inter-Korean dialogue, including a summit, during its stay in Seoul. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of resuming inter-Korean talks.

The problem is, what kind of talks will we have? Mutual efforts by the South and the North Korean authorities are needed in order to promote a substantially productive dialogue for the coexistence and prosperity of the Korean people signified by the positive peculiarity of the inter-Korean relationship.

For coexistence there has to be a decisive measure to guarantee security, such as Pyongyang’s abandonment of a nuclear program that aggravates the risk of nuclear warfare on the Korean Peninsula.

The inter-Korean direct dialogue channel and international talk channels have to be open and used. The priority is for both sides to minimize military threats by resuming the operation of the Joint Nuclear Control Committee and the Inter-Korean Military Committee.

Humanitarian cooperation projects such as the family reunions have to resume immediately, too.

A pragmatic inter-Korean dialogue to pursue “healthier” economic exchange and cooperation is desperately needed.

*The writer is a senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification.

by Chung Young-tae
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