[Viewpoint] What cause will six-party talks serve?April must have been an extremely lucky month for Kim Jong-il, who is reportedly a superstitious man, even as to have an astrology secretary. And, “guardian angels” of late have come into the picture for him.
Kim is a ruthless dictator who does not mind even if millions of North Koreans are dying because of famine. It is necessary for him to strengthen his economic, military and political leadership now because his goal is to build up North Korea as a strong and prosperous country by next year and consolidate the power base of his son who will succeed him.
The North has urgent pending issues like easing food shortages and providing political funding for consolidation of Kim Jong-un’s rule. A priority is removing economic sanctions that ban the activities of North Korean businesses in the international market.
However, they are both difficult issues for the North to solve. Unexpectedly, guardian angels of a sort appeared for Pyongyang. The first was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Elders, who volunteered to serve as mediators for North Korea’s nuclear issue, and who appealed to the international community to provide food aid to the North.
The second is the World Food Program (WFP) that has consistently emphasized the need to provide food aid to the North. The third is the Chinese government and Wu Dawei, the special envoy of the Chinese government on the Korean Peninsula, who has tried hard to resume the six-party talks.
The four members of the Elders, including former President Carter, are former heads of state. As far as a civilian mission is concerned, they are the highest level representatives. They visited Pyongyang and volunteered to advocate for North Korea’s position on denuclearization.
They also rolled up their sleeves to help solve acute food shortage in the North. Carter criticized Seoul for aggravating the food crisis in the North by suspending food aid. On Thursday, he again criticized South Korea for its refusal to send food to the North, saying that deliberate withholding of food aid amounted to a “human rights violation.”
Carter’s criticism aroused an echo in the international community. Under the headline “Not a Political Tool,” The New York Times editorially commented that “President Lee Myung-bak’s vow that the North will not receive any more food aid until it apologizes will only guarantee more suffering for the North’s people.”
The decisive help for a solution to the dire food situation came from the WFP. On Friday, it decided to provide emergency food aid to the famine-stricken country. The decision was facilitated by North Korea’s acceptance of the WFP’s demand to monitor the distribution. Therefore, it was not the WFP that volunteered to be a guardian angel but the North invited WFP to be a guardian angel. Thanks to WFP’s decision, some 3.5 million North Koreans will now receive emergency food aid.
We can consider the issue of providing food to the North as positive as long as the North accepts the principle that the donor should be allowed to monitor the distribution.
But there are problems in the resumption of the six-party talks.
Carter and the Elders rounded up their Pyongyang visit without even touching on the nuclear issue because their request for a meeting with Kim Jong-il did not materialize. Kim did not meet them because the North’s nuclear program is, in Kim’s position, not a subject of mediation, because the North aims to be recognized as a nuclear power.
What he needs is the lifting of economic sanctions. Kim Jong-il decided that Carter and the Elders were not helpful to the lifting of sanctions. As a result, the Elders ended up playing the role of North Korea’s honorary ambassador for food aid.
The third guardian angel, the Chinese government and Wu Dawei, are working hard to resume the six-party talks. Through the talks, China aims to take the initiative in issues related to the Korean Peninsula. And the resumption of the talks will erves the cause that it will facilitate North Korea’s reinstatement in the international community.
Wu Dawei visited Seoul last week to explain the three-stage proposal for the talks. He now plans to visit Pyongyang to explain the results of his Seoul visit and coordinate the itinerary for inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea talks. However, the six-party talks have been boycotted by North Korea. Moreover, it is already proven that North Korea’s nuclear program cannot be dismantled through dialogue.
We cannot agree to resuming the talks only believing in North Korea’s promise that it will abide by the 1994 Geneva Agreement and the Joint Statement signed on Sept. 19, 2005. The pretext that talks will ease tension on the Korean Peninsula is too weak to persuade people who have a deep distrust of Pyongyang’s leadership.
Unless Kim Jong-il agrees to a summit with President Lee Myung-bak without conditions, apologizes for military provocations and proclaims his will to discard North Korea’s nuclear programs, resuming the six-party talks will be nothing but a talk for the sake of a talk.
*The writer is a visiting professor of communication at Sejong University.
By Park Sung-soo
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action