Concocting contingency plansNorth Korea may be ready to accept the precondition of inter-Korean dialogue in order to reactivate the six-party talks on denuclearization. China’s top North Korean envoy, Wu Dawei, told visiting North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, that the six-party talks should resume after North Korea breaks the ice with South Korea and the United States on nuclear issues.
Seoul maintains that it can meet with Pyongyang at any time. A senior official currently visiting the United States said that Seoul-Pyongyang dialogue on denuclearization is separate from the broader inter-Korean talks and relations, and it therefore won’t be affected by the recent North Korean attacks.
Seoul has been insisting that Pyongyang apologize for the deadly attacks in order to reopen dialogue, trade, cooperation and aid. We may soon expect renewed inter-Korean and international endeavors to ease tension and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula - efforts that have been in a stalemate for three years now.
Currently, the international community cannot agree on resuming food aid to the impoverished country. The UN World Food Programme has been reiterating its call for urgent aid to starving North Koreans. Seoul does not want to officially resume humanitarian aid until Pyongyang shows sincerity about its military provocations. Washington is studying the need to offer humanitarian aid, but it cannot take action due to Seoul’s strong stance.
South Koreans are mostly against financial and humanitarian aid for North Korea until the latter clarifies its position on its recent deadly attacks. If nuclear talks were to reopen, they could lead to controversy over aid resumption. Authorities may be able to address the domestic controversy by explaining their reasoning, but they cannot insist on playing solo if international consensus tilts toward renewing dialogue and aid. If six-party talks ensue after Seoul-Pyongyang and Washington-Pyongyang dialogue, the topic could move next to food aid.
Pyongyang needs to apologize for its attacks to set inter-Korean relations on the right path. But if the focus shifts to dismantling North Korean nuclear weapons, inter-Korean issues may become secondary. The government should concoct contingency plans for a variety of scenarios after deep study of current circumstances and international movements. It inevitably may have to exercise flexibility to go with the flow. If nuclear talks make headway, so should inter-Korean relations and food aid issues.