Two-track approach to North

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Two-track approach to North

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak publicly invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to an international nuclear security summit in Seoul in March next year, on the condition that Pyongyang “sincerely and determinedly” promises to stop its nuclear weapons programs. It is the president’s first official statement to set the stage for the incremental renewal of six-party negotiations on denuclearizing the North after preliminary bilateral talks between the two Koreas and between Pyongyang and Washington.

But it remains highly unlikely that Pyongyang will seriously consider Lee’s proposal. North Korea may be more attached to its nuclear sovereignty after witnessing how vulnerable dictatorial countries can be today, as seen in Libya’s case. Even if the North returns to the multinational negotiating table, it can hardly be expected to be genuine and sincere.

Moreover, North Korea’s deadly attacks on a South Korean naval patrol ship and Yeonpyeong Island remain an issue. Many South Koreans believe the North cannot be forgiven unless it apologizes and promises never to attempt military provocations. President Lee, too, may have attached a precondition in full consideration of the public consensus.

But we cannot expect further apology from North Korea, which has repeatedly insisted it was not involved in the sinking of the Cheonan warship. North Korea has already expressed regret over civilian deaths during its shelling of the island. President Lee’s recent invitation won’t, therefore, exact any positive response from Pyongyang.

Lee should be credited for his steadfastness and consistency in North Korean affairs but it would be a great loss if negotiations for the six-party talks cannot proceed due to his insistence on apologies. Efforts to dismantle the nuclear threat also cannot await signs of sincerity in North Korea’s will to give up the weapons programs. The nuclear threat is as much an international problem as an inter-Korean one and they may lose patience over the South’s intractability. We need to separate the nuclear issue from their military provocations.

We should ready an inter-Korean meeting as a curtain-raiser for the six-party talks and at the same time pursue talks to address the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks. If the North appears insincere, the process can be stopped. The government can continue a hard-line stance if the North doesn’t respond to the talks or refuses to apologize for the attacks. We have nothing to lose in either case.
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