Bringing the North to the table

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Bringing the North to the table

The recent contact between the United States and North Korea in Malaysia from Oct. 21 attracts our attention because it took place amid heightened tension between Washington and Pyongyang.

It appears that Seoul and Washington do not attach great significance to the meeting because the U.S. representatives do not represent the Obama administration; they were former U.S. officials dealing with North Korean policy nearly two decades ago.

Nevertheless, the titles of their North Korean counterparts tell a different story. Han Song-ryol, director general of the U.S. affairs department at the North’s foreign ministry, and Chang Il-hun, its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, are all core North Korean diplomats involved in contacts and negotiations with the United States.

It is needless to say that their perception and strategies with regard to the current deadlock in inter-Korean relations will affect Washington-Pyongyang relations. That’s why both sides’ contact must be seen as a 1.5 track meeting between government officials and civilian experts instead of a civilian-level meeting.

As expected, the meeting could not bring about meaningful results. Nevertheless, it can serve as a starting point for official dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang no matter who — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump — gets elected U.S. president after the November election. The U.S. participants in the meeting will surely deliver North Korea’s position to the next U.S. administration.

The Obama administration’s so-called strategic patience has failed to deter the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang from pursuing nuclear missiles. As history shows, nothing can be achieved by unilateral sanctions. At the moment, South Korea and the United States are tightening sanctions against the North. Under such circumstances, tough sanctions may be necessary. But the government must not forget that those sanctions are aimed at bringing the North to the bargaining table.

Some security experts in the South assert that it is time to continue building pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime to force it to collapse on its own. But that is a farfetched argument. As foreigners say about their recent visits to the North, there is no sign that the Kim regime will fall soon.

For the moment, the best solution to address the crisis on the Korean Peninsula is encouraging the North to change. To achieve that goal, we must help the North to have more contact with the outside world than ever before.


JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 30

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