Updated : Jun.13.2005 08:34 KST

[Editorial] North Korea Must Now Respond

The summit meeting between presidents Roh Moo Hyun and George W. Bush, watched with interest by the whole country, has ended "smoothly." The two men reaffirmed the principle that a North Korea with nuclear arms will not be tolerated and that the issue is to be resolved diplomatically and peacefully, all while showing off the strength of the US-Korea alliance, and the timing makes it particularly significant.

The meeting sent a clear message about the North Korean nuclear issue. When North Korea declared it is in possession of nuclear arms and put off returning to the six-party talks, the hard-liners in the Bush Administration began asserting themselves. They made claims such as that the six-party format was useless and that the matter should be sent to the United Nations Security Council, and high-ranking US officials said things that angered the North, causing considerable worry and disconcertment as a result. It is fortunate that president Bush made it clear that a peaceful and diplomatic approach would be taken, and that if North Korea gives up its nuclear plans it would be possible for there to be a multi-party guarantee of the North's security and substantial aid such as energy, as well as that there is the possibility of more normal relations between the North and the US.

President Bush appears to have repeated his pledge that he would not invade North Korea and to have been careful to refer to North Korea's National Defence Commission chairman Kim Jong Il as "Mister Kim Jong Il" in order to give North Korea an excuse to return to the six-party talks. The hopeful message sent by the North through the "New York channel" a few days ago suggesting it would return to the six-party talks appears to have had a positive effect. One official says that the two leaders did not have concrete discussion about what measures are to be taken if the North does not return to the talks, and that makes you hopeful that overall the prospects for a restart of the talks have become bright again and that the worst of the North Korean nuclear crisis is over.

One notes that the two leaders displayed no major differences of view on the alliance, about which there has been controversy lately, and pledged strong cooperation. There were worries that president Bush would pressure president Roh about US troops in Korea and "strategic flexibility" but it was agreed that the country's foreign ministers would continue to discuss that, and there was no mention during their meeting of Korea's "Northeast Asian balancer" role, looked at with displeasure by the US, all of which made for desirable meeting results. If Korea gives in to American pressure and accepts "strategic flexibility" for United States Forces Korea (USFK), and if there were then to be conflict between the US and China over Taiwan, Korea could be sucked into a very dangerous situation and therefore must absolutely not yield on that issue. In the meantime Korea needed to win a positive response from the US at this most important juncture in resolving the nuclear issue and the government did relatively well in what was a diplomatically difficult position. The US-Korea alliance directly relates to security on the Korean peninsula and the future of the Korean nation, so it is regrettable that it has been politicized in domestic Korean politics. One hopes that as a result of the summit the exaggerated rumors about conflict in the alliance will go away and that it will be treated with cool-headed thinking with the national interest in mind.

The summit will turn out to be the most important point in the course of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and restarting the six-party talks. While it did not satisfy what the North had been hoping for, now that the presidents of the US and Korea have met and reaffirmed the principle of resolving the issue peacefully and diplomatically and discussed substantial aid and even the possibility of formal relations between Pyongyang and Washington, the North needs to respond. Fortunately there is a large Southern delegation going to Pyongyang for the fifth anniversary of the intra-Korean summit, and after that there is scheduled an intra-Korean ministers' meeting in Seoul. Just as was recognized at the US-Korea summit in Washington, intra-Korean dialogue is a useful channel for demanding a resolution to the nuclear issue and so North and South must engage in frank dialogue to speed up the establishment of peace on the peninsula. The sooner North Korea makes the right choice about returning to the six-party talks the better.

The Hankyoreh, 13 June 2005.

[Translations by Seoul Selection (PMS)]

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