Won’t get fooled again

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Won’t get fooled again

It is a well-known gambit that North Korea plays when it sits at the negotiating table. It slaps down a bundle of unreasonable demands and then walks out of the talks when South Korean delegates resist. Then they return at the last minute, drop many of the demands and instead urge the South Koreans to make due concessions as well.

North Koreans may attempt the same old trick in a preliminary meeting before the two Koreas hold senior-level defense talks in mid- February. A day after North Korea proposed high-level defense talks following months of heightened tensions, Pyongyang expressed its “firm will” to resolve all pending military issues, including the sinking of Cheonan naval ship and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

It said it will “express its stance” on the Cheonan incident and Yeonpyeong Island shelling. In view of its track record, North Korea may only abuse the talks to blame the South Koreans and repeat past demands to revise the Northern Limit Line, the maritime sea border in the Yellow Sea, as well as calling for an end to joint Korea-U.S. military drills and scaling back defense preparations.

North Korea’s negotiating strategy has worked in the past. The United States agreed to build light-water reactors for North Korea after talks in Geneva in 1994 in return for the latter’s promise to halt the operation of the Yonbyon nuclear reactor. In inter-Korean defense talks in 2004, South Korea agreed to remove propaganda signboards near the border. But it won’t work this time.

There are no officials on the South Korean team that would do anything to please North Koreans, such as stop the lighting of the Christmas tree near the demilitarized zone. North Koreans should be aware that Lee Myung-bak administration representatives cannot afford to be generous, given the public anger over last year’s North Korean attacks that killed soldiers and civilians.

North Korea may in some form express regret for the killing especially of civilians. Pyongyang proposed the meeting just eight hours after U.S. and Chinese leaders called for improved inter-Korean communications after a summit in Washington. But South Koreans won’t accept North Korea’s show of remorse if it lacks sincerity. Feigning a gesture won’t do North Korea any good with its economy in a devastating state due to severed ties with South Korea and the international community. It must be remembered that South Korea holds the key to its salvation.
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