The grand bargain

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The grand bargain

President Lee Myung-bak, who is visiting New York, has proposed an idea to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue. At a speech given early yesterday morning, Korean time, at a luncheon jointly hosted by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations among others, Lee suggested trading dismantlement of the nuclear program for security assurances and economic aid.

It’s called a “grand bargain.”

We expect this proposal to be the major turning point toward the fundamental resolution of the nuclear problem.

As Lee said in the speech, the nuclear standoff has repeated a pattern of dialogue and tension, progress and setbacks, then stalemates, over the past 20 years. If we continue to walk the same trail - the North agrees to halt the nuclear program and it’s rewarded for that only to later violate the commitment - then it’s obvious we can’t escape the old pattern.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged that he would not enter step-by-step negotiations, likely because he fully understands that the United States had been deceived by the North Korean “salami tactics,” in which it tries to maximize its profits by taking small slices.

President Lee said he mentioned his plan to Obama during their summit in June and spoke of the necessity of the consultation among the five states, other than North Korea, within the six-party framework. In other words, the five countries needed to have concrete discussions on the complete dismantlement of a North Korean nuclear program and on their course of action to accomplish that.

If we hoped for the fundamental resolution of the nuclear question, then there is no other alternative.

Grand bargaining, of course, may not be as easy as it sounds. The end of the dismantlement process should be the verifiable abandonment of the nuclear weapons and weapons materials, plus the irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear facilities, including those for uranium enrichment.

And without Kim Jong-il’s decision in this regard, then a grand bargain is just an empty idea.

But Kim, his health in decline and succession to the throne still up in the air, must face reality and think about what can guarantee the North Korean regime and security. North Korea can’t be recognized as a nuclear state and also become a powerful and prosperous nation at the same time.

If it doesn’t take this opportunity, there’s no future for North Korea. As President Lee said, no country on earth would oppose North Korea if it decided to dismantle its nuclear weapons and join the international community.

The priority should be to specify the comprehensive approach to the grand bargaining.

Cooperation with the United States is important, but China, Russia and Japan are also crucial partners. There should also be efforts for sweeping bargaining, whether through multilateral or bilateral means.

It won’t be easy.

But if that’s the only way, then we must see action, not just words.

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