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[Commentary] N. Korea-U.S. ties need discussion

Posted October. 25, 2000 15:55,   


The visit by the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang was yet a continuation of unprecedented development in North Korea-U.S. diplomacy. North Korea¡¯s facing a meeting with the mastermind of the U.S. foreign policy has maximized the symbolic importance of her visit. The unprecedented nature of the visit as well as the developments leading to the visit cannot be disputed.

It has been reported that such strings of unprecedented events led to Albright's visit to the North, where many of the pending issues between the two states were discussed in depth. In consideration of the fact that her visit might also be a predecessor to a visit by the U.S. President Bill Clinton, there is a high probability that much of what has been discussed might not have been disclosed. However, such non-disclosure does not in any way reduce the importance and the significance of her visit.

What other importance and meaning does her visit have other than being historically unprecedented? First of all, her visit might have the effect of binding North Korea to the continued transformation that had begun with the June inter-Korean Summit. Following a long duration of isolationism, North Korea has finally begun to open itself to the world, and Albright's visit to the North Korea will indeed open a new horizon for North Korea as well as encourage the North to refrain from retrograding.

Second, the U.S. domestic political situation, which seemed unready for North Korea-U.S. negotiations at least until early next year, expedited the bilateral establishment of diplomacy and is running along the tracks at an unpredictable pace. Such expedience could also speed the overall solution to the North Korean problem.

Third, Clinton's Administration might be striving to confirm personally the fruits of the "Perry Process" prior to its end of term. Following the 1994 Geneva accord, it was the formal North Korean Policy Chief William Perry who reined in the subsequent discord. The principle and the direction of the policy, the "Perry Process," might represent the greatest achievement of the Clinton Administration for North Korea Policy. As such, it would not be a mistaken view to think President Clinton would welcome the opportunity to reach out and obtain the greatest fruit of the process himself.

However, the question of why at this particular time has been raised not only by Korea but also by those in America and has raised concerns over the planned visit. The central criticism has been raised concerning the appropriateness of such major redirection in the diplomacy with North Korea as the United States faces a change in administration. Should the visit by President Clinton take place, it would mean redundant work and effort by the newly elected president.

The summit would proclaim a new direction and principle in diplomacy, and to carry out the change, many of the working-level personnel would be required to follow-up with countless talks and negotiations. Then, as the administration is given over to the new president, there also is the possibility that a new negotiation team might be formed. As such, it would be advisable for the current administration to continue to stay with the established policy as it works toward the change, but leave the final redirection of policy and principle to the next administration.

Although Secretary Albright is well aware of this situation, in consideration of the possibility of the Republican candidate George W. Bush taking office, she might strive greatly to settle the matter of President Clinton's visit to North Korea. In such a case, if the meetings do not contain actual solutions to the nuclear weapon and missile development programs of the North Korea, but only serve to offer unprecedented turn of events, the repercussion may be greatly detrimental.

Then, should the North Korea policy become one of political contention within the U.S. political landscape, leading to a treadmill development, it would force a great burden to not only the United States but also to South Korea.

It is the hope of many observers that such fears are unfounded should President Bill Clinton follow the path paved by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

At this point, it is crucial for the United States to not neglect South Korea and form its North Korea policy after a pre-discussion with the will and wishes of South Korea. There must not be a seeming dispute between the United States and South Korea concerning the role of leadership in connection with the peace process with North Korea. The United States must realize fully that an openness between the North and the United States does not necessarily translate to an openness between South Korea and the North.

Professor Hyun In-Taek, Political Science of Korea University