A flexible attitudeThe atmosphere around the Korean Peninsula appears to heading toward a rapid change. Following Wu Dawei’s visit to Pyongyang last week as China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has also paid a visit to the North Korean capital.
Since the Cheonan incident, discussions on the North’s nuclear weapons were expected to be delayed for quite a while. But the recent visit by Wu, China’s chief negotiator in the six-party talks, heralds an unexpected change in the discussion on the denuclearization of the North. Though the situation is still flexible, developments like these embarrass us, particularly at a time when North Korea keeps making excuses for sinking our warship in the Yellow Sea, rather than making an apology for what it did.
Carter’s visit to Pyongyang was made possible after the U.S. government accepted North Korea’s request for his visit. The North Korean government’s intention is to try to get out of its diplomatic quagmire and growing military pressure since the Cheonan massacre.
The United States is wary that too much meaning will be attached to Carter’s visit to Pyongyang, saying his visit is aimed at bringing back a U.S. citizen, Aijalon Mahli Gomes is a former English teacher in Seoul who has been detained in Pyongyang for almost eight months after having entered the country illegally via China for unclear reasons. But in its meeting with Carter, North Korea is highly likely to make a new offer to draw the attention of the U.S. administration.
When nuclear tensions rose in 1994, Carter went to Pyongyang and met with Kim Il Sung to pave the way for a summit between South and North Korea and the Agreed Framework to resolve the North’s nuclear armament issues.
However, North Korea should keep one thing in mind. At the time, President Kim Young-sam had sufficient reason to accept the North’s summit offer, as it could have been the first summit between the two Koreas since the division of the peninsula. But things are different now. The Cheonan incident is the North’s biggest attack against the South since the Korean War. Therefore, without any explanation by the North about the tragedy, it is difficult for our government to readily return to the six-party talks or have a summit.
Our government should also devise all necessary measures by anticipating possible offers North Korea may make. But the administration needs to know that if it clings to its previous position of “No, apology, no six-party talks,” it could possibly alienate itself from the international community. It is time for our government to react in a flexible manner.