Six-party vet to head North studies college

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Six-party vet to head North studies college

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Song Min-soon

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Song Min-soon is set to take office as the chancellor of the University of North Korean Studies, the country’s premier school on the subject.

With three decades of diplomatic experience, Song was a key player in inter-Korea dialogue and six-party talks, multilateral negotiations held since 2003 that are aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

He will be inaugurated in March.

“I accepted the chancellor position because I have benefited from my own country and wanted to keep contributing to diplomatic efforts,” he recently told the JoongAng Ilbo. “As a diplomat whose work related to national security and the inter-Korean relationship, I will strive to solve issues surrounding Korean unification by compromising national and international aspects.”

His education initiative is to strengthen hands-on experience with academic knowledge. Once students graduate from the school, he said, they should be able to deal with real diplomatic situations.

In his New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was open to an inter-Korean summit, which stirred international speculation on whether the two sides would meet this year. A day after, President Park Geun-hye responded, saying there was “no reason not to hold a summit, depending on the mood and environment.”

Regarding the escalated expectation for a meeting, Song advised that the government should not cling to the idea that a summit would happen because it was similar to “handing a sword to the North.”

“President Park has stressed the ‘faith process,’ in terms of the inter-Korean relationship,” Song said. “I believe the faith process is not outcome oriented and the core value of it is to build faith with the North step by step.”

Song said the South Korean government should remain patient and take a relaxed approach, even handing over the idea for a summit to the next administration if the current government cannot realize it.

In 2005, at the fourth round of six-party talks in Beijing, Song notably assisted in eliciting the 9.19 Joint Statement, which promises economic assistance to the North in exchange for it abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

However, the agreement fell through after the U.S. government ordered its banks and institutions to cut ties with the Macao-based bank Banco Delta Asia for its alleged business links with the North Korean regime.

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order to impose sanctions on North Korea, stating that Pyongyang was behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment prior to its scheduled release of the Hollywood comedy “The Interview,” whose storyline centers on a U.S. plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong-un.

When asked about the current inter-Korean relationship compared to during the Rho Moo-hyun administration (2003-8), Song declared that “the situation is worse.”

“The situations [of the current administration and the Rho administration] with the North can be similar if viewed from the perspective that the relationship between the North and the U.S. has deteriorated while our government seeks to normalize the inter-Korean relationship,” Song said. “However, it is different in that the Korean government has not shown a determined will, and it is not as strong as in the past.”

The Rho government, he continued, desperately attempted to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambitions, which the administration considered a top priority, seeing that nothing was possible with the reclusive state before that issue was resolved.

Song added that the Obama administration solely focuses on the Middle East in terms of global peace, unlike the George W. Bush administration, which made efforts to solve issues on the Korean Peninsula as well as disputes in the Middle East.

To improve the deteriorated inter-Korean relationship, Song called for a “creative approach,” citing an incident in 2008 when a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier after mistakenly entering a restricted military area.

That sparked the deterioration in inter-Korean relations, he said.

“Back then, the North stated that [the shooting] was inevitable, and the Korean government interpreted that statement in a negative way,” Song said. “But actually, the ‘inevitable’ was an indirect apology, and it admitted to the tourist’s death.”

However, the former diplomat said it wasn’t too late to resolve the incident and bring North Korea to the table to inquire about the “inevitable” situation and build measures to prevent a reoccurrence.

Private diplomacy is another strategy the government must employ to thaw the frozen inter-Korean relationship, Song suggested.


BY YOO JI-HYE [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]

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