- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2000

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's struggle for democracy, human rights and rapprochement with North Korea has earned him years in prison, exile, two assassination attempts and, more recently, the Nobel Peace Prize, which he richly deserves.

"With great moral strength, Kim Dae-jung has stood out in East Asia as a leading defender of universal human rights against attempts to limit the relevance of those rights in Asia," said the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The committee added: "His visit to North Korea [in June] gave impetus to a process which has reduced tension between the two countries. There may now be hope that the Cold War will also come to an end in Korea."

Since he was elected in 1997, Mr. Kim has combined diplomatic outreach and material incentives to the North with a well-articulated military contingency plan. The strategy has led to a thaw in relations which had been dangerously contentious. In June, the presidents of the two Koreas met for the first time since the Korean War.

A brief retrospective highlights just how volatile the situation on the peninsula has been. In January of last year, for example, North Korea was chairing a summit with China, the United States and South Korea, when one of its diplomats disappeared and was reportedly seeking asylum in the West. North Korea accused South Korea and the United States of kidnapping the official and the regime's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said "If the U.S. imperialists, their henchmen and followers dare unleash a war against [North Korea], the Korean people and revolutionary armed forces will never miss the opportunity to plunge the provokers into a sea of fire and to reduce them to ashes."

South Korea also highlighted during this summit its readiness to use military force against the North, should it become necessary. "As long as North Korea has a strategy to stage a rapid pre-emptive military strike against South Korea using weapons of mass destruction, we should be fully prepared for this," he said, adding "Together, South Korea, the United States and Japan should show strong determination to annihilate North Korea, so that North Korea does not even consider" attacking.

Mr. Kim's willingness to deliver firm warnings to the North is a crucial element of his successful engagement, or "sunshine" policy. In addition, Mr. Kim was willing, for the first time in years, to put South Korea on the front lines of diplomatic negotiations with North Korea, relegating the United States to a more peripheral function. This bold strategy of limiting the role of the United States as intermediary has been effective.

But Mr. Kim's Nobel Prize shouldn't lead the international community to expect any breakthroughs in the short run. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is willing to open diplomatic relations with the South and the United States only when given aid to avert famine in his country. All the same, South Koreans, and indeed the world, are fortunate to have Kim Dae-jung at the helm. He has been the first president in years to achieve substantive results, and his years of sacrifice have served to intensify his commitment to peace and freedom.

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