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U.S. coordination is critical for denuclearization of N. Korea

U.S. coordination is critical for denuclearization of N. Korea

Posted February. 21, 2014 02:29,   


The North’s perception about the issue of separated families is fundamentally different from that of the South. In April 1998, the first year of the Kim Dae-jung administration, an inter-Korean meeting was held in the Chinese capital of Beijing to finalize the issue of offering 200,000 tons of fertilizers to the North. Pyongyang had requested fertilizer support from Seoul in the latter years of the previous Kim Young-sam administration. Before leaving for Beijing, South Korean chief delegate Jeong Se-hyeon had been directed that he could agree with the support in exchange for the reunions of separated families. However, the talks fell apart because of the North’s ridiculous claims.

North Korean chief delegate Jeon Geum Chol put the fertilizer support ahead of the reunions of separated families based on the North’s distorted theory of humanitarianism. “The issue of fertilizers is involved in food and eating. And no humanitarian issue is more desperate than the issue of eating. Thus, the fertilizer issue is a humanitarian issue. In contrast, the reunions of separated families requested by the South are just a means for the government to get more votes. In other words, the reunions of separated families are a political issue.” (cited from “Jeong Se-hyeon’s Tongil Talk)

Although the reunions of separated families took place in Mount Kumgang Thursday, for the first time since the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye, it is unlikely that the event serves as a remarkable opportunity to make progress in inter-Korean relations. The reunions had been cancelled once due to the North’s change of mind despite its confirmation. It is questionable if the reunions can take place continuously. There has been no change in the perception of the North, which treats separated families not as important as even fertilizers.

Nevertheless, expectations are already too high. Some argue that the May 24 sanctions against the North should be lifted even though the North has not made any remark on the sinking of Cheonan Warship and the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island. Others hastily expect an inter-Korean summit will be held soon on the ground that each of the officials who negotiated the reunion deal represented South Korean President Park Geun-hye and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. These changes are sufficient to give the North the idea that the negotiations were successful in bring about changes in the South in favor of them.

However, the time is not yet ripe. If the previous two inter-Korean summits had a right influence on the North, would it have been this difficult to organize reunions of separated families? The inter-Korean summits in June 2000 and in October 2007 were “talks of their own,” which were no help to inter-Korean relations.

Why are the effects of inter-Korean summits short-lived? It is because the two sides do not seek comprehensive solutions for issues facing them. The Kim Dae-jung administration did not pay enough attention to its coordination with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton while having dialogues with the North to resolve the North Korean nuclear issues. Entering the latter part of his term, Clinton opted to resolve the issues between Israel and Palestine, while weighing the Middle East issues and North Korean issues.

The relations between former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and former U.S. President George W. Bush were even more awkward. At the summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, President Roh did not even attempt to get the North’s promise to abandon nuclear weapons. “The U.S. suspected the second inter-Korean summit organized by Roh Moo-hyun administration, while South Korea suspected the U.S.-North Korea negotiations led by Christopher Hill, the head of the U.S. delegation to six-party talks,” said Gordon Flake, executive director of Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, pointing out the conflicts between the U.S. and South Korea. If President Roh had dealt with the nuclear issues at the meeting, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un would not have conducted nuclear tests that easily.

Not to repeat past mistakes, South Korea should take into account coordination with the U.S. when it considers having a dialogue with the North. Without resolving the issue of North Korean nuclear program, bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula will just end up being an empty slogan. It is encouraging that the Park Geun-hye administration urged the North last week to “take an action for denuclearization,” unlike Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.

U.S. President Barack Obama will visit South Korea in April. He has expressed his expectation for the strong alliance with South Korea by saying “let’s go together” in Korean several times at bilateral summits. Now, it is President Park`s turn to say “let’s go together” to him. Only when South Korea has the U.S. as a strong partner for the denuclearization of North Korea, there will be an opportunity for comprehensive reconciliation between the two Koreas.