Sunday, August 14, 2005

Without Our 'Help'

The multiparty talks with North Korea over their nuclear plans have taken a recess because of an impasse over a nuclear power plant that North Korea insists it must have as part of any agreement. The US is taking the hardline position that North Korea must not have any nuclear program of any type, peaceful or no. The US delegation also implied that the other member nations to the talks, especially South Korea, were in agreement with this stance.

Apparently the US negotiators misread the South Korean position. Just a day or so later, a South Korean official suggested a different stance has been taken by his nation.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young's statement Wednesday that there are differences between Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s right to a peaceful nuclear program was no gaffe, pundits say, but a well informed comment by one familiar with diplomatic considerations.

Chung, after all, mentioned differences between South Korea and the U.S. twice during the interview. His statement came just one day after U.S. President George W. Bush said he would never permit North Korea a civilian nuclear program. ...

The question of whether the North would be permitted to possess a peaceful nuclear program was the main stumbling block during the 13 day six-party talks in Beijing, now in recess. It was the failure to achieve a consensus on this point that forced the three-week adjournment.

Many therefore read Chung's statement as a form of media-diplomacy to persuade Washington to yield on the issue.

A [South Korean] government official says that a small number of Washington officials agree - if the Stalinist country returns to the Non Proliferation Treaty and welcomes IAEA inspections - the U.S. will have no choice but to permit the North to use nuclear technology peacefully. “There's sufficient room for compromise," the official said.

Chung himself told an interviewer on Friday, "The right to use nuclear energy peacefully, something North Korea claims it must have, is an issue over which agreement is possible - through discussion and dialogue."

Others believe Chung was sending an encouraging message to Pyongyang: return to the talks after the recess, and South Korea will try and convince the U.S. on this point.
[Emphasis added]

Although the highlighted section above is a big 'if,' agreement to those terms by North Korea would certainly ramp down the heated rhetoric which has been escalating since Mr. Bush took office. What is interesting, however, is the mediation being put into play by South Korea, a strong US ally since the Korean War, and the nation most affected by any agreement that North Korea is willing to make.

That South Korea is continuing in this role is evidenced by the following story :

SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean delegation arrived in the South on Sunday for joint celebrations of the 60th anniversary of independence from Japanese colonial rule despite an unresolved crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear plans.

The four-day event highlights renewed exchanges between the two Koreas and comes during a recess in inconclusive six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The North Korean officials and some civilian delegates made an unprecedented visit to the South's national cemetery and paid respects at a memorial for soldiers killed in the Korean War.

"The memorial (visit) decision was a difficult one to make, but a mark we had to make some day," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a North Korean communist party official Rim Tong-ok as saying.

The visit to the national cemetery is seen by Seoul as a new turn in the two Koreas' relations.

"There is a great historic significance in this since it marks the beginning of a process of healing the pain of an unfortunate past of division and national struggle," South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo said on Friday.

It is clear that South Korea is serious about trying to calm things down on the Korean peninsula. It is also clear that North Korea is listening to South Korea and is actually willing to make some rather bold moves. The visit to the South Korean memorial was a highly-charged and very unexpected symbolic gesture.

The US should take serious note of how serious diplomacy can work to bring about agreements and how such diplomacy is a far better route to take than sabre rattling. If the administration is unwilling to learn from this, one can only hope that South Korea continues to work towards bringing peace to that area, even without US help.

[Note: Thanks to Tom Legg for the tip. Tom is an American ex-patriot living in Hong Kong. His blog provides an interesting perspective on the news coming from both Asia and the US and is well worth regular visits.]


Blogger Elaine Supkis said...

They are the crummiest sabre rattlers around. Heck, they are sabre garter snakes. (joke)

12:34 PM  

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