- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The top opposition leader in South Korea called yesterday for tightening a noose around North Korea by restricting food and energy aid to the Stalinist nation if six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program fail.

“It would be great if we could find a solution just through dialogue, but the nuclear issue is not one we can just drag on,” Choe Byung-yul, chairman of the Grand National Party (GNP), said during a breakfast meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

The politically conservative GNP holds a majority in South Korea’s National Assembly, and it often criticizes President Roh Moo-hyun and his Millennium Democratic Party for being too conciliatory toward the North.

Pyongyang acknowledged last year it had a secret program to make nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 pledge.

North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States recently held talks with North Korea in Beijing but failed to move toward diplomatic solution.

“I wonder when we come across issues between countries, whether you can rely solely on talks and negotiations,” said Mr. Choe, criticizing Mr. Roh for relying too much on negotiations to resolve the crisis.

“They are too obsessed with the fact that they need to find a solution to this nuclear program issue only through negotiations and talks.”

Mr. Choe also blamed former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s government of indirectly funding North Korea’s arms program.

Under Mr. Kim’s “Sunshine Policy,” South Korea paid North Korea $500 million for a historic inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang on June 13, 2000.

Mr. Choe said he believed an additional $500 million had been funneled through tourism projects into North Korea since then.

“We cannot but suspect that North Korea developed nuclear weapons with that hard currency,” he said.

Despite the appearance of friendly relations between the U.S. and South Korean governments, Mr. Choe said he felt Washington was not very confident in Mr. Roh’s government.

“I believe at times you need to apply pressure and there are many forms of pressure that can be applied that do not go as far as military force,” he said.

He said U.S. administration officials had been unable to give him a precise deadline for when they would give up trying to negotiate with North Korea.

A second round of six-party talks is slated to take place in November, he said. The first round took place in Beijing in late August.

Mr. Choe emphasized that the key to resolving North Korea’s nuclear challenge was “watertight cooperation and coordination between [South] Korea and the United States” and the active support of China.

Cutting food and energy to North Korea, he said, would be meaningless without the participation of China.

“That kind of pressure should be applied when it can be done with maximum effectiveness, which requires China’s participation,” he said.

Mr. Choe said tens of thousands of North Koreans were fleeing into China, mainly because they were hungry.

But he said few were now dying of hunger thanks to food aid from South Korea, Japan, the United States, the European Union and China.

“That’s why some people point out that perhaps the easiest pressure point or the most fatal pressure that anyone could impose on North Korea to resolve the nuclear issue is to cut off food aid,” he said.

China would be a key in making sanctions work, Mr. Choe said. “If China cuts off food aid and energy supply, that could seriously jeopardize North Korea.”

North Korea has accused the United States and its ally Japan of hindering humanitarian aid to the impoverished state for political purposes, Agence France-Presse reported.

Pyongyang’s condemnation came as Washington warned that a proposed 60,000-ton U.S. food donation to North Korea could be at risk amid concerns that the aid might not reach those in need.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told the official Korean Central News Agency on Monday that Washington and Tokyo were abusing the aid issue to put pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear ambitions and its kidnapping of Japanese people.

Mr. Choe met yesterday with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton and Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley.

He is scheduled to meet Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage today.

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