Breaking the deadlockRelations between South and North Korea have turned tense again despite some signs of a thaw at the beginning of the year. U.S. President Barack Obama began the New Year with an executive order aimed at pitting sanctions against the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. Obama will likely denounce the North for its alleged hacking of Sony Pictures in his State of the Union message scheduled for Tuesday. But such a move could throw cold water on the Park Geun-hye government’s efforts to revive an inter-Korean dialogue.
Putting the North-South relationship back on track is President Park Geun-hye’s biggest challenge this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s division. Unless another round of long-awaited reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War takes place prior to the military’s joint Korea-U.S. Key Resolve drills in March, Park may lose out on a key opportunity to improve bilateral ties.
The government must do its best to find a breakthrough in strained ties during this period of crisis. It must find a way to advance inter-Korean relations in close cooperation with the Obama administration, taking into account Washington’s sanctions on Pyongyang.
The government says Washington supports Seoul’s efforts to improve its relationship with Pyongyang after drawing a line between sanctions and dialogue. However, the U.S. government and the public have cast a strong suspicion that the United States was the victim of a cyberterrorism attack carried out by North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau. Moreover, the U.S. Republican Party, a hawkish group of lawmakers when it comes to North Korea, controls both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The government should not overestimate Washington by taking its statements at face value. The government also must not waste time by repeating the same mistakes when it comes to persuading Pyongyang to talk. If it can hardly kick off an official conversation, it must at least find a way out by offering unofficial contact.
On Pyongyang’s part, it must scrap its sclerotic habit of repeating the same demand for the suspension of joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington while remaining mum on President Park’s call for dialogue. The North has nothing to gain by trying to evade U.S. sanctions while at the same time attempting to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States. We hope North Korea finds a realistic solution now and comes to the negotiation table.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 19, Page 30