[Viewpoint] Time for North to trust South

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[Viewpoint] Time for North to trust South

President Lee Myung-bak, during a visit to Germany, came up with a fresh idea on how to crack the North Korean nuclear conundrum as momentum builds for resuming multinational talks on denuclearization.

He invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Seoul next year for the second international Nuclear Security Summit - but only if his regime sincerely vows before the international community to renounce its nuclear weapons program. His proposal was simple yet comprehensive.

First of all, his invitation is a message to the international community that Seoul is eagerly committed to denuclearizing North Korea. He also aimed to find a breakthrough in multinational efforts to dismantle North Korea’s weapons program - efforts that have been stuck in limbo for the last two years.

A Seoul official elaborated on the invitation, saying that North Korea should surrender its nuclear program, including a uranium-enrichment project that could give it a second way of making nuclear bombs, during the revived six-party talks. The other five nations in the talks - South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - could present in return cooperative plans in the security and economic areas, he said.

Seoul could also put President Lee’s so-called “grand bargain” idea - in which North Korea would receive a shower of rewards if it irrefutably discards its nuclear weapons - on the negotiating table among the six nations.

President Lee is not suggesting North Korea immediately give up its nuclear program, but instead incrementally work out issues of security guarantees and economic cooperation through bilateral talks between Seoul and Pyongyang and between Pyongyang and Washington, followed by the six-party negotiations.

Through such a process, North Korea would be naturally drawn into the international community. Kim Jong-il would be able to make a formal debut on the international stage and boost his status if he attends the Nuclear Security Summit.

Considering its deep skepticism of the outside world and its penchant for reclusiveness, North Korea won’t be immediately tempted by President Lee’s proposal. Pyongyang secretly may be congratulating itself for safeguarding its nuclear deterrence after witnessing the leadership crisis in Libya. North Korea has been justifying its nuclear sovereignty as a defense against U.S. hostility. North Korea believes its nukes have become its chief shield against the outside world.

But such an introspective and self-assuring mind-set only blinds North Korea from changes around the world. The U.S. and China have recently wrapped up their third bilateral strategic and economic dialogue in Washington. A summit between the two countries’ leaders in Washington in January along with the recent economic dialogue underscore the shared hegemony the two countries have in the new global order.

North Korea should no longer feel threatened about the security of its regime now that China is on an equal global footing with the U.S. If it took the trouble to look at the interconnected relations among the five other nations at the six-party talks, North Korea would realize that the black-and-white Cold War mentality no longer applies to the Korean Peninsula. The only excuse left for Pyongyang to pursue nuclear weapons would be to continue its ruling dynasty.

The United Nations-sponsored Nuclear Security Summit is attended by leaders of countries like the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, the European Union, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, which are bound by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Ukraine and South Africa renounced their nuclear programs to take part in the meeting and prevent nuclear proliferation.

No countries have been brought down on the global stage after they eschewed nuclear arms. In fact, they were rewarded with greater global relevance and financial benefits.

If the summit came up with a road map for dismantling North Korea’s weapons program, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan would offer financial support and security guarantees in return. The entire world beyond the six-party nations would endorse what North Korea wants most - aid and security guarantees.

Kim would no longer be snubbed as an erratic dictator. North Korea now has the choice of a path with wide opportunities.

The reforms spearheaded by Deng Xiaoping turned China into an economic powerhouse without undermining its socialist identity. It is time North Korea places some faith in its neighbor in the south.

*Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

By Park Young-ho
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