A two-track strategy on NorthPresident Lee Myung-bak has been more or less consistent in his position on North Korean affairs. He has said that he will agree to an inter-Korean summit at any time -as long as it won’t be used for any other purpose than sustaining peace on the peninsula.
In a recent television interview, he reiterated that he would sit down with North Korean leaders if the country makes overtures and changes its attitude. He became more specific in his latest meeting with the Blue House press corps.
“Many countries are demanding changes in North Korea this year, and it is indeed the best time for the North to show changes in many aspects,” he told reporters. “I hope there will be a sincere form of dialogue within the year.”
He also said that an inter-Korean summit does not necessitate prior consultations with Washington and that “we are always open.” Although he maintained the prerequisite of “a change from the North,” Lee stressed the importance of a meeting this year and attached no other conditions, sending a strong message to his northern counterpart about the desire for dialogue.
North Korea should take Lee’s comments seriously. The North initially made conciliatory gestures, calling for working-level military talks when inter-Korean dialogue became a precondition for six-party talks. But, once again, the country completely reversed its stance during preliminary talks, refusing to apologize for the two recent attacks on the South and then storming out of the discussions.
Such maneuvering will no longer work. Washington and Beijing are in no position to ignore Seoul, as most of the aid to the North would have to come from the South. The North’s old tactics will only worsen the dilemma facing Pyongyang. North Korea said it will look to become a prosperous country by 2012. But it is still in a pitiful state where it is begging for help from the outside. If it goes on wasting its paltry resources by building new missile sites and conducting military campaigns against the South, it will drift further away from its ambitious goal.
Lee said the public wants a two-track strategy - a strong response to military provocation and dialogue on peace. Polls show that the public feels Lee’s administration has mostly erred in the field of inter-Korean relations. It had been not only weak in responding to the North’s military attacks, but it has also aggravated tensions in bilateral relations. We hope the administration can make strong headway in inter-Korean relations and display more flexibility.