- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

It should be easy to accept the proposition that South Koreans understand North Koreans better than Americans do. Not so for the Bush administration which, almost four years ago, rejected the “Sunshine” policy of South Korea’s President Kim Dae-jung and has not supported the “Peace and Prosperity” policy of the current President Roh Moo-hyun, aimed at reconciliation and eventual unification with the North.

The Bush neoconservatives have been convinced the only thing the North Korean leadership understands is power, pure and simple. They think negotiating with Pyongyang is not doable and trying to equals “appeasement” and “giving in to blackmail.” The net result is the continuing nuclear crisis facing the major actors in Northeast Asia.

Early after his first Inauguration, President Bush made statements about “loathing” North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il. His first State of the Union address placed North Korea in the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq and Iran.

Not long after September 11, 2001, the United States launched the military campaign in Afghanistan, announced the doctrine of “pre-emption,” then attacked Saddam’s Iraq. In her recent confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny.”

What are North Korean leaders to think of U.S. intentions? They have repeatedly talked about U.S. hostile intentions and the need for nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.

The South Korean government of President Roh Moo-hyun is convinced the North may be seeking nuclear weapons for self-defense against a U.S. threat, but may not yet have any that are deliverable. The Bush administration asserts North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and weapons proliferation constitute a global threat and must be stopped by various means, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The administration solution has been Six-Party talks to solve the nuclear crisis — with the U.S. demanding North Korea verifiably get rid of all nuclear weapons capabilities before the U.S. will negotiate anything that would benefit the North.

Last June, Washington modified its position somewhat, re-stating that the United States does not intend to attack North Korea and intimating we might assuage the North’s concerns with a Six-Party pledge of nonaggression and bilateral talks within the Six-Party framework.

North Korea has not replied directly to that proposal. Rather, on Feb. 10, it publicly claimed it has nuclear weapons and, given the U.S. hostile attitude, will develop more and will suspend participation in the Six-Party Talks. On Feb. 19 North Korea said it no longer wants to talk with the U.S. or Japan.

We are at an impasse; the nuclear crisis persists and tensions run high. We should remember wars have begun more often than not by accident or miscalculation in times of high tension. No rational person should want war with North Korea. Why not?

Military analysts have long understood that U.S.-South Korean allied military forces, supported by Japan, would defeat North Korea in perhaps two months of high-intensity conflict. But North Korean forces would inflict hundreds of thousands of casualties among Koreans, Japanese and Americans living in Korea and Japan, using long-range artillery that has Seoul within range, and missiles able to strike targets all over South Korea, Japan and perhaps the Western U.S.

North Korean forces have chemical and biological weapons. Unless the current nuclear crisis is solved, add nuclear weapons to the North’s military mix. There is no effective missile defense in South Korea, Japan or the United States.

No major Northeast Asian state wants war on the Korean Peninsula; none except the United States want regime change in North Korea for many reasons, and none want a nuclear-armed North Korea. But then there’s that dangerous impasse.

What is the best diplomatic strategy at this juncture to achieve a verifiable end to North Korean nuclear weapons programs, while advancing human rights in the North?

The optimum Six-Party Talks strategy is to follow South Korea’s lead, which seeks reconciliation and eventual Korean unification. This is not appeasement or surrender to blackmail. Most important, in concert with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, the Bush administration should do the following:

c Declare the U.S. has no hostile intent toward North Korea and is ready to co-exist peacefully with its present government.

• Remove North Korea from the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist states. North Korea has not been involved in an act of terror since 1987.

• Declare the U.S. ready to normalize relations, end economic sanctions, and help Pyongyang obtain World Bank and Asian Development Ban loans, despite its past loan defaults.

• State the U.S. will work toward a regional nonaggression arrangement with North Korea, as well as establishment of a broad regional Northeast Asia security organization.

c Commit the U.S. to work with Six-Party members and international organizations to help North Korea develop peaceful energy and agricultural capabilities.

With these major statements, the Bush administration should insist that North Korea agree to:

(1) Return to the Six-Party Talks.

(2) Disavow and dismantle nuclear weapons programs.

(3) Rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, readmit International Atomic Energy Agency specialists and discuss special inspections by Six-Party teams.

(4) Declare the intention to maintain normal relations with all members of the Six-Party Talks.

(4) Release American, Korean and Japanese abductees.

All major players in Northeast Asia want an end to the North Korea nuclear crisis. Does anyone have a better, safer strategy to end North Korea’s quest for a nuclear arsenal?

C.S. Koo is a visiting scholar at Beijing University and a former floor leader of the South Korean National Assembly. William Taylor is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

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