Another perfect opportunity missed

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Another perfect opportunity missed

North Korea has blown a golden opportunity to change inter-Korean and Pyongyang-Washington relations.

The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, North Korea’s channel for contacting Seoul, praised Kim Ki-jong’s knife attack on U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert as “an expression of protest” and a “righteous act.”

It argued, “If an act of opposing America’s war scheme is a terror attack, the anti-Japanese patriotic feats of Ahn Jung-geun should also be called terror attacks.”

How dare Pyongyang compare Kim Ki-jong to Ahn Jung-geun? The argument is completely outrageous and has only helped U.S. Congress’ attempt to reclassify it as a terrorist-sponsoring state. If North Korea had used this opportunity well, it could have improved its relations with the United States, which have stiffened after the Sony Pictures hacking case.

It would have been more appropriate if North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, “We oppose all acts of terror and hope Ambassador Lippert will recover soon.” Having already issued an antiterrorism statement, it could have maintained a consistent tone.

In August 2008, two months before its removal from the U.S. terrorist-sponsoring state list, North Korea’s foreign ministry proclaimed that it opposes every kind of terrorism and would fulfill its duties and responsibilities as a member of the United Nations in the struggle against it. If North Korea had recycled this statement after the knife attack on Lippert, it could have promoted a good deal with Seoul and Washington.

The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland press release was a misjudgment out of blind loyalty and ignorance of international affairs. Diplomacy is an extension of domestic politics. The decision is proof that the hardliners around Kim Jong-un are still more influential than doves who want to talk.

This mood has been detected in many places already. Recently, Workers’ Party Secretary Choe Ryong-hae was demoted from a standing committee member to an ordinary member of the Politburo. Kim Jong-un mentioned a possibility for a summit meeting in his New Year’s address, but no progress is made at the working level, when no one is supposed to go against what the North Korean leader said personally.

North Korea is too obsessed with the Korea-U.S. joint military exercise and has failed to look at the bigger picture. In order not to miss another golden opportunity, Pyongyang should let skillful masters handle foreign policy.

*The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 18, Page 30


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