DURING Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to North Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told the Chinese premier that the condition for his return to six-party talks was an end to the “hostile” policies of the United States. The North’s official daily the Rodong Shinmun said it should include the conversion of the armistice agreement to a peace treaty between the North and the United States, adding that it would be “one of the most rational and practical means” for achieving a denuclearized peninsula. Earlier this year, the North had proposed a “bold deal” to American officials who visited Pyongyang. The bold deal comprised the withdrawal of U.S. Forces in Korea, including the nuclear umbrella for South Korea, and an end of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
China’s position of not wanting to endanger the North Korean system for the sake of denuclearization would also make it difficult for the international community to pressure Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear program. It is another hurdle for successful six-party talks on the nuclear issue.
In such a situation, President Lee Myung-bak’s “grand bargain” or U.S. President Barack Obama’s “comprehensive package” are limited in leveraging the nuclear issue. The situation needs big compromises and decisive measures from the relevant countries, which would bring a very difficult political and military agenda to the South Korean government.
We believe it would not be possible to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue until Seoul, Washington and Beijing discourage Pyongyang’s nuclear game in unison. If this does not occur, the North, having already conducted two nuclear tests, could return to its policy of using nuclear devices as a means of bargaining. These are the reasons Seoul must look for a new way to break the stalemate. If a nuclear North Korea cannot be acceptable to Seoul for any reason, then perhaps Seoul needs to look at another option and make its intention clear to the U.S. and China.
Regarding peace on the Korean Peninsula, there has been no actual discussion among relevant nations about the link between the North’s nuclear program and the US’s military presence in Korea.
Negotiations on a permanent peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula were stipulated in the six-party talks’ statement of principles on September 19, 2005 and their agreement adopted on February 13, 2007. Now is the time to start thinking about a long-term strategy for securing a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, with reunification in mind, while preparing to confront the painful but unavoidable reality.