Rice Deals With N. Korea
with Stick and Carrot
- Discusses with S. Korea on the North Korean nuclear standoff
Employing typical diplomatic tools in dealing with knotty partners, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice carried both stick and carrot during her crucial tour to Asian nations - South Korea, China and Japan. Her trip mainly focused on ways of resuming the stalled six-party talks aimed at finding solution to the standoff over North Korea nuclear weapons program.
While staying here for 20 hours, she also met President Roh Moo-hyun and other national leaders to discuss the security issue. Her terming of North Korea, which she once described as "outpost of tyranny," as sovereign nation came in a softened stance regarding the reclusive nation, heightening the possibility of thawed relations between the U.S. and the North.
On the other hand, she also indicated the U.S. could use hawkish means in case the North continues to boycott multilateral talks.
Rice's stay in Korea took Sunday away from President Roh Moo-hyun and other officials. Still, the outcome didn't go much beyond expectations: Reconfirming the importance of the six-party talks to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions and Pyongyang's immediate return to the multilateral forum. Or, it should be considered fortunate that both North Korea and the framework for regional dialogue have been given some more time and chances, which increasingly appear to be running out.
Rice flew into Seoul with some good faith. She acknowledged that North Korea is a sovereign state; the U.S. has neither desire nor reason to attack the North; and Washington can provide multilateral security assurance for Pyongyang. None of these are entirely new but were still significant as they came from the new U.S. diplomatic chief. After all, Rice had just spurned the North Korean demand to withdraw her labeling of the communist country as an "outpost of tyranny," saying there was no reason to apologize for "telling the truth."
So, it was not surprising that Rice fell short of offering anything new to lure North Korea back to the negotiating table. A worrisome trend in this regard is the alleged move in Washington and Tokyo to drop the six-nation talks and bring the case to the U.N. Security Council. And if this was part of the diplomatic keynotes of the second Bush administration on the North Korean nuclear issue, it is more than disappointing because it would be fairer to say that the U.S.-not North Korea-holds the final key to solving this problem.
The U.S. official's swing of the three Northeast Asian countries couldn't be made at a more diplomatically sensitive period, given the escalating tension between Seoul and Tokyo over historical and territorial issues as well as those between China and Taiwan. It is for this reason we wonder why Rice had to reiterate official U.S. support for the Japanese efforts to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in Tokyo. Outright U.S. favoritism of a few core allies runs the risk of alienating existing and potential partners.
Rice's first tour of East Asia in office would serve as an occasion to deepen broader regional support for multilateral peace efforts instead of emphasizing the lines between friends and foes. Washington must have learned from its experiences in the Middle East over the past two years that unilateral obsession of its strategic goals not only aggravates animosity toward the world's sole superpower but threatens regional and global peace.
Rice said Sunday that the United States had no intention of invading North Korea while urging it to return to the six-party talks to make the strategic choice of giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions. After talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-moon in Seoul, the top U.S. diplomat, who had once labeled the North as an "outpost of tyranny," described North Korea as a "sovereign state."
"I think we could say it's a fact that North Korea is a sovereign state. It's in the U.N., we are in negotiations with it in the six-party talks," she told a joint press conference, adding the U.S. has reiterated it has no intention of invading or attacking the country.
"We also agreed that the six-party talks are the best way for North Korea to receive the respect it requires and the assistance it needs," Rice said referring to the results of the meeting with Ban. Minister Ban, for his part, stressed that all of the issues that the North is concerned about can be discussed in diverse formats, including direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea, within the six-party framework.
"South Korea and the U.S. are ready to seriously discuss all issues of concern, including those of North Korea, at the six-party talks," he told reporters. "Within the context of the six-party talks, diverse formats of discussions, including direct dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea, will be possible." Before their 30-minute talks, Ban welcomed Rice's "sovereign state" description, hoping such comments would help reopen the stalled negotiation process by "creating a good dialogue atmosphere indirectly."
Her terming of North Korea as a sovereign state came during a roundtable meeting with a group of South Korean journalists from Internet-based news outlets, which was aired live on Internet portal site Daum Communications earlier in the day. Rice said, however, that the U.S. cannot allow the 29-month nuclear tension to continue "forever," though Washington is committed to a peaceful and diplomatic resolution.
"It is true that we need to resolve this issue. It cannot go on forever, but the U.S. has been committed to this route, to this diplomatic, multilateral forum, and we remain committed to trying to make it work," she said during the press conference.
Pyongyang wants corresponding measures for its nuclear abandonment, including a firm security guarantee from the U.S. and economic aid from the parties in the six-nation talks, including the U.S. Washington maintains that it can reward the North only when it comprehensively dismantles all of its nuclear programs. Rice said North Korea may be wanting one-on-one talks with the U.S. because it would like to "get back to a time where it was an issue between the U.S. and North Korea," referring to the first nuclear crisis in the early 1990s.
But she made clear that there would be no direct U.S.-North Korea talks outside the six-party formula because the issue is not only between them but involves neighboring countries, including South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. In addition to the foreign ministers' talks, Rice also met Unification Minister Chung Dong-young and paid a courtesy visit to President Roh Moo-hyun.
Rice's two-day Seoul visit, which began on Saturday, was part of her six-nation Asian tour, which already had taken her to India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan. She flew to Beijing later in the afternoon. Before coming to Seoul, Rice urged China to play a greater role in persuading North Korea to return to the negotiation table. China is the North's only remaining communist ally. nw