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[Editorial] Pres. Lee-Obama Summit

Posted June. 18, 2009 08:14,   


President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama in their summit talks Tuesday in Washington agreed on principles to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. They also adopted a “joint vision for the South Korea-U.S. alliance.” This is a significant achievement accomplished by the two leaders’ commitment to close cooperation to stave off nuclear proliferation and eliminate security fears on the Korean Peninsula, in addition to taking the bilateral alliance to the next level.

Presidents Lee and Obama pledged their commitment to achieving the “complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, as well as ballistic missile programs.” President Obama also reaffirmed that he will not recognize the North as a nuclear state. He provided a written guarantee on providing “extended deterrence,” including putting South Korea under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. pledge to defend the South against the North’s nuclear, biochemical and missile attacks. By doing so, the two leaders not only pledged to prevent Pyongyang from possessing nuclear weapons, but also affirmed a joint defense principle to protect the South from the North’s weapons of mass destruction.

The question is whether such firm determination can result in changes in the communist country’s behavior. Strong cooperation between Seoul and Washington is an inevitable response to Pyongyang’s confrontational policies. Before taking office, President Obama suggested the possibility of direct talks with the North, but has shifted to a hard-line stance after Pyongyang exhibited anachronistic and contemptuous behavior.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il made a serious mistake by throwing cold water on President Obama’s show of goodwill. Kim might have assumed that the North’s old brinkmanship tactics would also be effective on the Obama administration. Instead, Pyongyang should stop its reckless confrontations with the international community by responding to President Obama’s offer of negotiations with the North. Pyongyang is set to defy the U.S. Security Council’s new resolution condemning its second unclear test and missile launches. So South Korea and the U.S. must be prepared for further provocations and aggression by the North.

No less important is creating an international atmosphere to promote sanctions on the North. The G8 Summit next month in Italy is expected to discuss North Korean issues. Washington should take the lead in enforcing U.N. sanctions on the North and implementing what was agreed in the Seoul-Washington summit. It must persuade China and Russia to agree with President Obama’s stance of not rewarding the North for its wrong behavior and take the initiative in curbing further provocations.

On the fate of the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, President Lee said he will reject excessive demands from the North. He is right given that Pyongyang’s demand is unacceptable from an economic point of view, and President Lee’s hard-line stance is also necessary to press the North to abandon its wrong acts. When the two Koreas meet tomorrow for their third working-level talks on the complex, Seoul officials should drive home to Pyongyang that South Korea and the U.S. will follow through on what they agreed in the summit.

The joint vision for the South Korea-U.S. alliance is the creation of a future-oriented bilateral cooperation at the global level. For the partnership to evolve into a genuine comprehensive and strategic alliance that shares the same values, South Korea should aim beyond the resolution of the North’s nuclear program. The best way for Seoul to actively improve its fortunes and survive between the two main Asian powers -- China and Japan -- is to strengthen ties with the world’s sole superpower United States. The joint vision includes principles to deepen the bilateral alliance, such as enhanced cooperation in space development and the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Such principles should be materialized into concrete implementation measures. Emerging as a global partner to the U.S. can sometimes lead South Korea to pay a hefty price or make sacrifices. Therefore, Seoul needs to explain to its people the future vision of the bilateral alliance and convince critics. It should also overcome pro-North Korean forces resistant to the principle to pursue “peaceful reunification based on the principles of free democracy and a market economy.”

On the bilateral free trade agreement, Presidents Lee and Obama agreed on “working together to chart a way forward.” The U.S. Democratic Party continues to oppose the accord and opinions differ over the timing of the ratification and certain details, since the two leaders recognized the accord’s significance in raising economic, trade and investment relations. Yet the two sides must begin work to move it forward. In particular, Washington must follow in Seoul’s footsteps in its effort to ratify the accord.