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Towards a New Korea Policy for the United States

Recommendations by the June 15th Korean American Committee

for Peace and Unification of Korea, March 6, 2009  

 2009년 3월 20일 (금)

                                                        

 

I. Introduction

 

“And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching …….know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.”

As concerned Americans of Korean descent working for greater friendship between the United States and Korea as well as for a peaceful unification of Korea, we are deeply moved by President Obama’s above message in his inaugural address.

 

We, Koreans came to the US, and became citizens of this newly adopted land, thereby becoming Korean Americans. We were educated and disciplined in Korea and have been tempered and nurtured in the US. We suffered from painful internecine war, have been living through agonies and sadness of ten million separated family members (many of us still are separated from family members in North Korea) and struggle for unification of the divided Korea. Therefore, Korean Americans have first-hand experience and sentiments of the motherland people, and have deeper understanding of its past and recent history and aspirations.

 

We would like to present our honest and sincere opinion, and recommendations for the US and peace in East Asia to the Obama Administration and the US Congress. As historical background, we are also attaching three essays of a Korean American’s observations and insights on the US-Korea relations and two ‘Korea Policy Recommendation’ submitted to the Clinton Administration in1999.

 

 

II. Three Essential Considerations

 

1) New Perspectives on North Korea

 

After over half a century, it is time to realize that disregard, malign neglect, belligerent isolation, ambivalent engagement and regime change policy of the US toward North Korea have all failed. What is needed at this time is a fundamental change in the US leaders’ perception on and approach to North Korea, and deal with it as is. A specialist on Korean peninsula wrote, “North Korea’s negative image as ‘uncooperative,’ ‘untrustworthy,’ or ‘deceitful’ is a devil of America’s own creation. The US became a victim to the devil of its own creation.

 

From North Korea’s perspective, North Koreans have been living in their divided half of Korea with the South defining the North as the main enemy and under military and nuclear threat of the US for over half a century. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died of famine; millions more suffer poverty and despair out of isolation. It can be said that US policy of animosity has in a way brought out a nuclear North Korea.

 

The US leaders may need to look back why the 1994 Framework Agreement with North Korea did not materialize. The Obama administration should be ready to reaffirm the spirit of the US-DPRK Joint Communiqué of October 12, 2000, in which both governments pledged “to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity.” The US is now at a crossroad of opportunity to reformulate a fundamental change in its policy and alter the underlying nature of US-North Korean relations: from confrontation to dialogue and engagement, from regime change to mutual respect and recognition.

 

2) Ending the Korean War

 

Since 1974  North Korea had proposed a peace treaty and normalize its relationship with the US. The US, however maintained policy of disregard and neglect to North Korea’s plea. It was only when North Korea was suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons programs that the US could no longer afford to ignore it. This situation led the US to sign the 1994 Agreed Framework.

 

As agreed, North Korea froze its nuclear reactors. However, construction of the LWR power plants that the US pledged had not progressed on schedule. The US did not move toward normalization of political and economic relations either. North Korea meanwhile did not collapse, as anticipated by US officials, and the Clinton administration changed its containment to an engagement policy belatedly in late1999.

 

The year 2000 saw significant progresses: the first ever North-South Korea Summit meeting on June 15 and the US-DPRK Communiqué of October 12.  Secretary of State M. Albright made a historic visit to Pyongyang and paved the path for a summit meeting between Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Il. With George W. Bush as the next president however, fledgling engagement policy backpedaled to harsh containment policy thereafter.

The Agreed Framework was scrapped after James Kelly of the State Dept. visited Pyongyang in October 2002, a month after Japan’s Pyongyang Declaration envisioning normalization with North Korea. Pyongyang restarted its plutonium program in 2003 and test launched a long range missile and did nuclear test in 2006. This repercussions by North Korea has been partly the result of measly US implementation of the agreed items in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. Subsequently the Bush administration had changed its policy of regime change to bilateral dialogue in the last two years of his second term.

From the North Korean perspectives, in view of their past dealings with the US, it may be impossible for them to give up their weapons of deterrence, in the absence of a peace treaty ending the Korean War formally. It is about time the US plays a leadership role in negotiating a peace treaty so that a new era of peace, disarmament, reconciliation and cooperation can begin in earnest on the Korean peninsula. A peace treaty is one of the provisions in the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement, not to mention the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement.

 

3)  Source of Problems: Division of Korea

 

The source of all the problems arising form the Korean peninsula is the division of the country . Overcoming the division and achieving unification is a civic religion to Koreans of both sides and overseas. The South Korean public will support a bold effort of the US to engage the North. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is likely to pursue close relations with the US over confrontation with the North. On the contrary, if the US coerces North Korea to the brink of military attack, the South Korean public sentiment will be against the US, as shown in the case of former South Korean President Kim Young-Sam during the Clinton era, when a war nearly broke out.

 

Amid the crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US still has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea.  The American military presence - at an annual cost of billions of dollars for the US taxpayers  -- is a drain in US defense spending. Phased withdrawal of US troops should be a part of the disarmament process in the Korean peninsula. The US may need to sidestep so that South and the North can revert to their own process of reconciliation and cooperation, without the direct involvement of the US confounding triangulation of problems.

 

 

III. Recommended Policy Measures

 

1. Diplomatic Relation with North Korea

 

President Obama should send an envoy of the highest level to Pyongyang soon to pursue direct negotiations with North Korea, in a step towards a comprehensive new deal covering the resolution of security, political, economic issues on the Korean peninsula that underlie nuclear issue. It should start with a simple step: an unconditional offer to exchange liaison offices and end the Korean War formally. The envoy should discuss earliest possible summit meeting with Kim Jong Il. It will install trust between the parties and insure the prospect for future roadmap of relations between the two countries.

 

In return for a new political, economic, and strategic relationship with Washington, Pyongyang needs to agree to satisfy international norms of behavior regarding proliferation matters along with nuclear and missile tests, and then move to eliminate such programs of international concern. Fostering sufficient mutual trust between the two will encourage North Korea to forgo its nuclear arsenal pursuant to the will of the late Kim Il Sung on the eventual denuclearization.

 

The North Korea nuclear issue already has agreed-on solution formula that it can attain a rather immediate achievement. The Obama administration has a chance to make history by ending the 60-year conflict that divides the Korean peninsula, and reversing an isolated nation from the global community thereby fostering peace in the US, East Asia and for the Korean people of the North-South and including over 2 million Korean Americans.

 

2. Signing of Peace Treaty

 

Both countries should initiate process of ending the Korean War. A declaration of ending Korean War should be signed by the US, North and South Korea, and China. An agreement should be worked out among North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. for mutual arms reductions in the Korean peninsula. The U.S. objective of dismantling North Korean nuclear and chemical weapons programs and missile system can also be attained within the scope of this measure.

 

To reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and to improve the atmosphere for further diplomatic talks aimed for a negotiated settlement towards signing a peace treaty, it is suggested that all parties concerned – DPRK, ROK and the US -- suspend all military-related activities that are seen by the others as being provocative and threatening.

 

3. US-DPRK Summit Meeting

 

The earliest possible summit meeting with Kim Jong Il is highly desirable in view of the unique North Korean political system. At the summit, an agreement on the road map can be concluded, which would then be subject to Six-Party approval. There should be a commitment on the establishment of full diplomatic relations as Pyongyang dismantles its fuel-fabrication plant, reprocessing facility and reactor at Yongbyon. Korean peace treaty and abandonment of nuclear weapon program before the end of Obama's first term should also be committed.

 

Discussion on the United Nations human rights issue should also be addressed at the meeting.

President Obama can also encourage dialogue between the North and South in tandem with the inter-Korea 1992 Basic Agreement, June15, 2000 and October.4, 2007 Joint Declarations.  The US should also encourage bilateral talks with Japan to implement the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration on normalization of relations between Japan and North Korea.

 

4. Strict Implementation by Action for Action

 

Allthe agreed items in the previous Joint Statements at the Six-Party Talks and any other future agreements should be carried out by “action for action” principle, such as the beginning of construction of conventional power plants as North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs and begins to turn over its nuclear material and weapons. North Korea should finalize the process of dismantling all nuclear facilities and materials and clear histories of produced plutonium, HEU and Syrian connection matters. 

 

5.  A Regional Security Organization 

 

Thereshould be a conference among the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan  for the purpose of establishing a North East Asia Security Organization as envisaged in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement. The new organization can be assigned to facilitate international arrangements commensurate with the Korean unification and further to stipulate principles and procedures for the maintenance of peace in Northeast Asia.

 

IV.  Conclusion

 

The 60-year-old division of Korea has been inflicting immeasurable inhumane tribulations to the Korean people. Yet it is the Koreans themselves who have to strive to achieve unification. In view of closely tangled tripartite relations, an earnest full engagement with North Korea by the US is the elixir of solution. From the start a comprehensive engagement, embracing the direct bilateral dialogue while coordinating the 6-Party Talks members, will lead to fruitful outcome.  The Obama administration should invest serious resources for the goal, and not repeat the mistakes of the preceding administrations.

 

The US steps could be withheld or reversed if Pyongyang does not follow through on its commitments. Between the US and North Korea, which would be able to take risks without significantly jeopardizing their national security? The US would be with a much greater margin of safety. For the North, it is a matter of survival or extinction. Even in pursuing our own national interest, if it is not based on the international justice and moral value, it will quickly lose respect and support of other countries as it did in the immediate past administration.

 

We all saw our demise in Vietnam because we failed to understand Vietnamese history and nationalism.  So are the Iraq of today and possibly Afghanistan. Deeper understanding of Korea's history and the nature of its national sentiment would lead the US to enjoy a genuinely beneficial  relationship with the Korean people. President Obama and Vice President Biden have the opportunity to usher in a new chapter in the history of Northeast Asia. As president Obama said: “We are ready to lead once more,” and yes, we can!

 

6.15 Forum

 


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