We will not be bystandersOn a trip to Seoul after the first Pyongyang-Washington meeting since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said that he had “a sincere and useful conversation,” adding that there was some progress on the key issues of contention, including the suspension of uranium-enrichment programs pursued by the North. It is a positive sign for the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula that a mechanism for the resumption of the six-party talks is still being activated in the new Kim Jong-un era.
The United States and North Korea reportedly discussed preliminary steps to resume the six-party talks - such as suspension of North Korea’s uranium enrichment programs and sending an IAEA inspection team back to the North. The two sides also had an in-depth discussion on the issue of providing large-scale nutritional aid on humanitarian grounds. It is yet to be seen whether the meeting will produce tangible results. But it nevertheless provided the first opportunity for both sides to exchange their views in the post-Kim Jong-il era.
The problem is our equivocal attitude about the progress in the Washington-Pyongyang dialogue amid frozen South-North relations. Davies said that he emphasized to his North Korean counterparts that fundamental improvement in U.S.-North relations will be impossible without an improvement in South-North relations.
But it is still questionable how much significance we can attach to his statement. Last year, Seoul had two meetings with Pyongyang in accordance with an agreement that a South-North dialogue should precede a U.S.-North Korea meeting for the resumption of the six-party talks. In the meantime, however, a third high-level meeting between Washington and Pyongyang did take place when the essential South-North contact came to a halt.
If the U.S.-North dialogue makes further progress, it will cause worry that Pyongyang still favors its policy of talking with Washington without Seoul’s participation, not to speak of the dire possibility that the South-North stalemate could hinder the resumption of the six-party talks. To avert such a scenario, inter-Korean dialogue must be held in tandem with the U.S.-North meeting. We cannot blame the North forever for the suspension of dialogue, even though Pyongyang is more accountable for that.
Following the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea is in a predicament. We should lend a hand, and the North must take it. There is no better way than continuing to knock on Pyongyang’s door - with patience and flexibility - because we are not a bystander in the peace process.