- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

It is a very sad fact indeed that South Koreans now find the United States to be a greater danger to the peace than North Korea. A recent "60 Minutes" segment on South Korea showed passions running high and anger against the United States disturbingly widespread. Who remembers now that, had it not been for the intervention of the United States when the North attacked the South in 1950 and the war fought at the loss of tens of thousands of American lives, the entire peninsula would have been enveloped in the totalitarian darkness?
Instead the South, the 11th-largest economy in the world, is now a free and highly developed society and yet another one in the throes of a tremendous fit of anti-American sentiment. Two generations have grown up since the Korean War. Many people prefer to believe, against plenty of evidence going back over decades, that the North Korean regime can and will change if engaged.
"The starting point for Korea is that there should never be another war on the Korean peninsula," said Seok Hyun Hong, the publisher of Korea's largest newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, last week at the Heritage Foundation. "We start with this unequivocal belief and then work to arrive at the unwavering determination that a crisis must be resolved through dialogue and negotiations."
As a matter of fact, that has also been the approach of the U.S. government, which has actually taken an entirely different approach to the Korean situation than it has to Iraq, but has received precious little applause for working multilaterally in this case. Congressional Democrats have complained that the administration's approach to Korea has been, of all things, too restrained not a charge often leveled at the White House these days.
The administration in this case has committed itself to work through the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and through negotiations with North Korea's regional neighbors, seeking to avoid making this a two-way standoff between Washington and Pyongyang. Ironically, that is exactly what many would prefer, including the North Koreans. (Needless to say, this is an idea entirely rejected by the international community when it comes to Iraq. Go figure.)
Within the next two weeks, the United States is expected to urge the Security Council to condemn North Korea's recent moves to restart its nuclear program, its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the restarting of the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. A list of potential sanctions is being drawn up by the White House, the mere idea of which has unleashed yet another verbal explosion from the North Koreans, to the effect that this would amount to a declaration of war.
What North Korean Dear Leader Kim Jong-il would like more than anything, according to knowledgeable South Korean observers, is the prestige and recognition of dealing one-on-one with the world's only superpower. After all, Kim got Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang and almost succeeded in getting then-President Clinton. (He could still get Mr. Clinton, of course, but, let's face it, he doesn't carry quite the same prestige these days.)
Kim certainly would not want to see anyone less than a president or vice president, and for meaningful dialogue with Korea, there is no one else to negotiate with. He wants a package deal that would solve all North Korea's problems together and keep him in power international aid, IMF and World Bank assistance, reconciliation with Japan and aid from South Korea. He thinks that only the United States is able to order all these players to act and to do so quickly. North Korea is a country in abysmal shape, close to mass starvation and totally dependent on international assistance.
And, of course, he wants all of this after admitting to having cheated on the 1994 Agreed Framework with Washington and Seoul, which provided North Koreans with food and energy for most of a decade in return for canceling their nuclear program which they never did, of course.
Now, the Bush administration has stated that it will not talk until North Korea allows the IAEA's nuclear inspectors back in. If that happens, then perhaps the United States should contemplate opening a dialogue, but not before. The CIA believes that North Korea has been a nuclear power for some time, and to rush into premature and panicky concessions now would be a mistake and reward deception, dishonesty and blackmail.
Unfortunately, there are those who will condemn even this principled stand and paint the United States as the aggressor, which is clearly the case in South Korean public opinion, if not leading political circles. A strong resemblance to European attitudes towards Iraq may be detected here. It is yet another case where American rejection of the appeasement favored by others is causing the United States to be seen as the problem.


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