[Viewpoint] New wine for new bottles

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[Viewpoint] New wine for new bottles

The stage is ready for the United States and North Korea to sit down to hash out a new disarmament approach, drawing interest as to whether a bilateral meeting could generate an outcome any different from past talks that have proved so fruitless.

There is always the possibility, no matter how slim, that North Korea’s elimination of its nuclear arsenal could signal a major step toward ridding the world of all nuclear weapons.

But such an outcome depends heavily on the extent to which the United States is committed to its global role and North Korea’s interpretation of U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. is not the world’s superpower anymore. It still has military and economic clout, but its leadership is now defined in terms of how well it engages the rest of the world’s common interests.

The U.S. cannot maintain its status in the international community unless it stands at the forefront of battling climate change and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, two of the world’s most urgent problems.

That’s why President Barack Obama’s commitment to “a world without nuclear weapons,” despite an urgent domestic and international agenda, raises hope.

After less than 100 days in office, President Obama outlined in an address in Prague an ambitious agenda toward reducing and containing the potential spread of nuclear weapons and then sought to improve ties with Russia and China - opponents of sanctions against Iran and North Korea, both of which have pressed forward on a nuclear agenda - to lay the groundwork for a more effective nonproliferation treaty.

Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons by gaining the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as Britain, Germany, France and Russia to contain Iran’s nuclear program. He also took the initiative to implement Resolution 1874 passed by the United Nations’ Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea.

Yet Asian allies can’t help but wonder if Washington might try harder if North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats posed a danger to cities in Europe. However, we cannot ignore the Obama administration’s unswerving position on disarming North Korea.

We expect Pyongyang special envoy Stephen Bosworth will assert in his upcoming visit that future bilateral talks won’t attempt to put new wine in old bottles, but will be new efforts for a new goal.

The envoy will have to relay Obama’s vision and conviction, and then persuade Pyongyang that it would be in its own interests to respond to the changed environment.

He must explain that if North Korea surrenders its nuclear ambitions, its plans to unify the Korean Peninsula through military means and its designs on disrupting the U.S. coalition with South Korea and Japan, it will benefit by gaining regime security and economic prosperity from the nations involved in the six-party talks. The deal would allow North Korea to save face and get some rewards, too.

It is pointless to highlight the excruciating cost of being an exception and outcast on the world stage.

In Japan, a nation punished with atomic bombs for its imperialistic attacks on neighboring countries, the new prime minister has called for the establishment of a coexisting regional community in Asia. Meanwhile, China, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of its communist state, has reaffirmed its commitment to a market economy to sustain prosperity.

So South and North Korea must reconfirm their 1992 joint declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in line with global efforts toward a nuclear-free world.

The two Koreas promised to make the region a nuclear safe zone by not testing, manufacturing, possessing, enriching, storing, installing or using nuclear energy for anything other than peaceful purposes.

If North Korea has failed to commit to the joint declaration because of what it perceives as a threat from the U.S. to its regime, it must resolve the “threats” through bilateral and multilateral talks and reacquaint itself to its nonproliferation and basic peace agreements with the South.

How long do we have to watch the tragic drama of the separated families and their reunions?

It is serious decision time for North Korea, for the future of the Korean nation.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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