South Korean Party Envisages Tougher Stance Toward North

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - The South Korean political party whose candidate leads polls to succeed President Kim Dae-jung is pushing for a firmer approach in future dealings with North Korea. This follows the recent revelation that the Stalinist state is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

The move comes as Asian countries, in a joint statement, echoed demands by the U.S. that North Korea immediately scrap its uranium-enrichment program.

Leaders of ten Southeast Asian countries, joined by those of South Korea, China and Japan, issued the call at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia Monday.

The U.S. last month announced that North Korea had admitted the existence of its clandestine program, which violates a key Clinton administration-era agreement.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, the U.S., Japan and South Korea agreed to provide Pyongyang with civilian nuclear reactors, in exchange for an end to its nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. also undertook to supply 500,000 tons of heavy fuel annually until the reactors were on line.

An installment of the fuel shipment is due later this month, and the administration has not yet indicated whether it will hold it back because of the violation.

It has, however, ruled out any resumption of negotiations until the program is verifiably dismantled - a precondition rejected by North Korea.

South Korea's Kim, whose soon-to-end tenure has been characterized by efforts to seek reconciliation with the North, has urged the U.S. not to impose sanctions against Pyongyang, warning that it could lead to war on the Korean peninsula.

He also doesn't want the Agreed Framework scrapped, while the U.S. has pointed out that the North already considers the deal nullified.

Three members of South Korea's conservative Grand National Party (GNP), who held briefings with senior officials in Washington last week, returned believing the U.S. plans to adopt the tougher approach with the North that their party favors.

The lawmakers, Park Jin, Cho Woong-kyu and Yoon Yeo-joon, said in a statement the U.S. administration was preparing to use "sticks" rather than "carrots" against North Korea, and the measures could include suspension of the oil shipments by next January.

Other steps being considered included a drive to isolate Pyongyang diplomatically, secure wide international condemnation of the nuclear program, and impose economic sanctions, they said.

Cho said U.S. officials had indicated that Washington would oppose further inter-Korean rapprochement if it hindered U.S. attempt to have the nuclear plan scrapped.

"In general, the Americans still complain that the South has provided such a huge amount of aid to the North, but have received nothing in return," he said.

Kim's "sunshine policy" of reconciliation with North Korea won him the Nobel peace prize in 2000, but has its critics at home.

With elections to succeed him less than seven weeks away, the policy has become - along with official corruption - a major campaign issue.

GNP presidential candidate Lee Hoi Chang, who is leading in the polls, called last month for a review of the "sunshine policy" if the North tried to use its weapons program as a bargaining chip to win more concessions from the international community.

Lee also said Seoul should suspend the project to build safe reactors for Pyongyang - a centerpiece of the Agreed Framework.

A Seoul commentator was quoted in a South Korean daily Tuesday as saying the Bush administration may as well wait until Kim leaves office after next month's election, and then deal with a new government whose approach toward North Korea would be more to its liking.

A final decision by the U.S. on whether to halt fuel shipments is expected to follow consultations with other parties to the 1994 agreement - South Korea, Japan and the European Union

U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials are to hold security talks in Tokyo on Friday, while Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to meet his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul next week.

In a letter to President Bush, five U.S. congressmen last week called for punitive steps against North Korea, including a permanent halt to fuel shipments and other aspects of the Agreed Framework.

Republican Senators Jesse Helms, John Kyl and Bob Smith, Republican Rep. Chris Cox and Democrat Rep. Ed Markey also argued that the U.S. should urge the South Korean and Japanese governments to end their funding for the reactor projects.

While not calling for military action, they said the U.S. "should work aggressively with its allies to prepare for a future beyond the current Stalinist regime in Pyongyang."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow