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Pyongyang Is No Longer a Terrorist State
'Verifying North Korea's nuclear proliferation will be a serious challenge' : US official
Lee Byong-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-12 16:21 (KST)   
There was a lot of talk after Kim reportedly suffered a stroke.

"If people wish to perfect the demise of the North Korean regime, the death of its long-time leader Kim Jong-il is a blessing."

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One of my friends recently uttered this while talking about Kim's health but it is perhaps what a lot of conservative people in South Korea may frequently recall, especially when they sadly watch the skin and bone North Korean defectors escape from the poverty-stricken country.

So, they usually hate the word "sunshine policy," which virtually became a dead word under the Lee government before figuring out more precisely what's wrong. And it is no wonder that the spearheads of the half-baked engagement policy are now standing on the sidelines of the Lee government's policy toward the North. For months, accordingly, the inter-Korean relationship has been seriously impaired -- even in part frozen.

Yet North Korea's state television attempted to dispel speculation about Kim's health by carrying more than 10 still photographs, not video images, without exact dates and places. They were the first pictures of him released in about two months after there was a classified briefing to some South Korean lawmakers by the National Intelligence Service that "Kim suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in mid-August and underwent surgery."

In the meantime, even though North Korea is obviously under some strain and stress because of the mismatched perceptions over a verification system between Washington and Pyongyang, it still seems confident and upbeat amid the still-unanswered questions about Kim's health prognosis. To downplay Kim's physical uncertainty, North Korea has unexpectedly provoked military tensions by displaying a tilting-at-windmills quality again. Eventually Pyongyang's strategy was like "catching two birds with one stone."

North Korea does not see nuclear reality directly. Instead it sees the shadow of the nuclear reality on the whole Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a new repository of nuclear weapons. And North Korea is, by nature, driven to take big risks, so that it strategically calculated that the outgoing Bush administration, while fighting the financial crisis, could not worsen the ongoing nuclear stalemate.

North Korea's another brinkmanship was a turning point in the US-North Korea relationship. Ratcheting up tensions by threatening to expel International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the Yongbyon facilities complex, Pyongyang has successfully obtained a significantly diplomatic achievement from Washington in spite of some US conservatives' objection to the one-shot and provisional solution of delisting the North from terror list in 21 years since the tragic bombings of KAL airliner in 1987.

The prospects of cooperation among member states of the six-party talks, except for Japan that is curiously marginal, do not look dim. North Korea could not completely shortchange the next step of the Bush administration, although the big issue for the "broken-duck administration" is not the North Korean nuclear weapons program, per se.

To understand the meaning of the hard-won agreement, it must be seen in the context of the political timetable both Washington and Pyongyang face. At the same time, stepping back to look at a bigger picture can be a better way to figure out where to put the efforts in the resolution of a dispute. The Bush administration has thus decided to look for a hard but quick fix by removing North Korea from a terrorism blacklist.

"Verifying North Korea's nuclear proliferation will be a serious challenge. This is the most secret and opaque regime in the entire world," said Patricia McNerney, US assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation at the news briefing, Oct. 11.

As might be expected, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, according to the Associated Press, pointed out that he would not support the step unless it is clear North Korea will accept intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites. Indeed, there have been some complaints before striking the deal that the US negotiators are taking the role of the "fly on the wall," focusing not on the substance of the negotiations but rather on the process, since President Bush couldn't afford to waste the remaining months on the troubled negotiations to be followed by years of haggling and concession-hunting under the new US administration.

With a few months to go until the next February, accordingly, the North Korean nuclear deals are now likely to be an Obama-Kim race, unless something serious happens to the 'Dear Leader' again. Fortunately, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama did not put the brakes on the deal by reacting favorably that President Bush's decision was an appropriate response.

In terms of substance, meanwhile, some of what North Korea claims is unsurprising: Apparently, Pyongyang doesn't have a very high opinion of the Bush administration, to say nothing of the Lee Myung-bak government that has so far kept lukewarm attitudes toward the North, and it appears to believe an Obama administration would become a comparatively favorable partner in dealing with the die-hard denuclearization on the Korean peninsula by playing for high stakes again.

North Korea reportedly fired, on Oct. 7, two short-range missiles into the West Sea on the Korean peninsula's west coast by using an AN-2 biplane, capable of carrying over 10 military personnel. While we have yet to understand exactly why the North launched the missiles at such a critical moment, it is clear that the firm line that the Kim regime drew between denuclearization and diplomatic normalization is increasingly a dotted line.

If people are tired of bailing water, maybe it is time to fix the pump. North Korea wants to establish a full diplomatic relationship between Washington and Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il may think that he can do it with Senator Obama, if he wins. And Kim seems to expect Obama to be elected president rather than the hard-right McCain. For the present, Kim's dream highly likely comes true, perhaps soon. When Obama becomes president, yet, South Korea will need much time to create a comprehensive policy toward North Korea, which must be greatly different from the already-planned "Vision 3000," President Lee's engagement policy of addressing North Korea' s per capita income of US$3,000 within a decade in return for its nuclear abandonment.

The Vision is not the only solution to the ailing North Korea. No countries seem to believe that North Korea will accept it. On the contrary, they assume that North Korea's denuclearization has something to do with the leading exercise of American power. In the process, we are going to become even more intertwined and dependent on the other member states of the six-party talks.

I am one of those who really would like to see the Pyongyang-based American embassy and vice versa. That is a good seed of maintaining a more stable and sanguine prospect in Northeast Asia. But it's hard not to worry that some people might see Kim's incapacitation as a golden opportunity of regime change in the North.

From their rambling and incomprehensible analysis on the unfathomable North Korean leadership, to their inabilities to handle unconfirmed intelligence, to their apparent hyperbole and distortion to interpret Kim's health, their performance seems constantly to cause the charge that a slew of reckless right-wingers are funneling an old idea of anti-North Korea into the Lee government whose desire to open a new dialogue with the North has not yet disappeared.

Much experience tell us that when the distance between the raw data and the final conclusion is too long, people might feel compelled to massage the data, since human beings are notoriously susceptible to self-deception. Denuclearization is not simply about the will to do so. It's about the power we have to achieve our goals.

The future of the denuclearization on the peninsula is extremely as uncertain as Kim's health. It should offer us an opportunity, but also give us a challenge. Ultimately, this could make us even more globally cooperative, given that there will be a unified Korea in future. We should focus on the hidden road of the Washington-Pyongyang agreement, not the red herrings of the big deal.

©2008 OhmyNews

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