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DONG Yong-Sueng

More Desperate Moment for International Cooperation

DONG Yong-Sueng

Sept. 11, 2009

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Doing an about-face since August, North Korea is now making conciliatory gestures after more than a year of heightened provocation. It started with the North Korean delegation sent to pay respects at the memorial services for the late President Kim Dae-Jung, champion of the "sunshine policy" of reconciliation, but the moves should not be regarded as a breakthrough that allows the international community to lower its guard.

Although the delegation's trip was officially considered an "unofficial visit," the group met with major figures of the former government and opposition parties. Moreover, main figures in inter-Korean relations -- Minister of Unification Hyun In-Taek and Kim Yang-Gon, a member of the Supreme People's Assembly Presidium, United Front Department -- had a closed-door meeting for one hour and twenty minutes. Topping the round of visits was a trip to the Blue House, which the delegation requested. No doubt the Northern Koreans would have been agitated if a meeting with President Lee Myung-Bak had been denied. Still, the Blue House was not obligated to agree and demonstrated special generosity in acceding to the unusual request.

It seems that North Koreans, who stayed another day after their scheduled two-day visit, emphasized the need for improvement in inter-Korean relationship to every figure they met in Seoul. Particularly, it is said that they stressed commitment to the implementation of the June 15 and October 4 Joint Declarations on promoting inter-Korea relations and peaceful reunification. It is unknown if Blue House was as explicit, but it probably expressed the same feeling. When returning to the North, the delegation seemed satisfied. Maybe that was because they completed their mission. They must have been tasked to pay tribute to Kim Dae-Jung, deliver Kim Jong-Il's message to President Lee, ascertain the atmosphere of the South and spread a feeling of conciliation to the South.

One wonders if the delegation they will deliver an accurate interpretation of what they saw and heard to Kim Jong-Il. Hopefully they realized that if the North ignores the current atmosphere and tries to avoid denuclearization, the core divisive issue, while persistently urging the implementation of the two declarations, they will never be able to improve inter-Korean relationship. But it is doubtful the correct interpretation will be delivered ? or even heeded if it is accurate.

President Lee made it clear in his Liberation Day speech on August 15 that economic cooperation between South and North will bear fruit only when political/military issues (i.e., denuclearization and disarmament for conventional weapons) are solved first. The Inter-Korean Basic Agreement concluded in December 1991 encompasses all political and military issues, including the nuclear issue. But the North seems to want to resolve political and military issues with the US and only deal with economic issues with the South. Although they might have obtained what they wanted with the previous administration in Seoul, the mood has changed.

Obviously aware of the change, the North is now employing typical strategies under which it tries to get the South to persuade the US that Pyongyang is willing to restart a dialogue. It is part of orchestrated moves to weaken the international alliance trying to rein in Pyongyang. North Korea will send appeasement gestures to the US, the South and even to Japan. It appeared to obtain a dialogue channel with Washington as it released detained US reporters. For the South, it will resume reunions of separated families, which will be used to touch the emotions of South Koreans. Furthermore, it will soon begin to touch hearts and minds of the Japanese, targeting Democratic Party of Japan. But when it comes to nuclear issue, the North will stick to its position, insisting that it will not budge "as long as US hostile policies against the North remains." Hence, the regime will not slacken its work on developing nuclear weapons. The assertion made by the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations that the regime has succeeded in uranium enrichment demonstrates the North's ever-present threat to the international community.

As it shifts from a hard-line policy into selective appeasement combined with a comprehensive get-tough policy, the North is not feeling much pain yet from international sanctions. That will embolden Pyongyang's hard-line stance even if sanctions strengthen further. That is the reason why the other nations in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea need to forge their strength. The North will not suffer from sanctions at their current level, and the present degree of solidarity among six-party nations will not dampen the North's determination for nuclear development.

Now is not the time for complacency, thinking the North's recent conciliation moves are a sign that economic sanctions are having an effect. The North, fearful of the six-party alliance acting as a united front, is focusing on disrupting policy solidarity. Still, the shortcut to resolving North Korean nuclear issue is policy cooperation among the South, the US and Japan as well as the active participation by China and Russia.

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