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Top U.S. Official Updates Korea Situation

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2000 – The United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea are trying to normalize relations with North Korea, but now it's up to North Korea to respond, according to the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth accompanied Defense Secretary William S. Cohen during a visit to South Korea in mid-March. He said the United States strongly supports President Kim Dae-jung's engagement policy toward North Korea.

Speaking with Washington-based reporters traveling with Cohen, Bosworth assessed the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. "Our first priority here is to avoid war," he said. "Military conflict in this region could be devastating."

The United States and South Korea employ a joint strategy of deterrence and diplomacy to avoid war that has the U.S.- ROK military alliance at its core, he explained. Diplomatic efforts aim to engage North Korea to contain the threat and try to reduce tensions on the peninsula.

"The Agreed Framework of 1994 remains a cornerstone of that diplomatic strategy," Bosworth said. The agreement, he said, froze North Korea's nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in return for the provision of alternative energy sources by the United States, South Korea, Japan and others. That agreement remains in force, he said, and the Yongbyon facilities remain not only frozen but subject to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections."

Due to concerns over North Korea's Taepo Dong I missile test in summer 1998 and a previously unknown underground facility, U.S. officials recognized the need to supplement the agreed framework. President Clinton dispatched former Defense Secretary William Perry to the region. Perry conducted a month-long review and produced what is now known as the "Perry Process."

The United States, South Korea and Japan examined policy options for dealing with North Korea's missile program and weapons of mass destruction, Bosworth said. The result was a tightly coordinated trilateral strategy, he noted.

The three nations agreed to seek broad engagement with North Korea. This involved responding to the North's economic and other concerns and at the same time dealing with the three allies' security concerns.

"This is all based on very large measure on the policy that President Kim Dae-jung has been pursuing toward North Korea for the last two years," Bosworth said. "It was first known as the Sunshine Policy, and then became known as his engagement policy."

Kim's policy is based on zero tolerance for military provocation, separation of politics and business and a pledge by South Korea not to seek to overthrow or absorb North Korea. South Korea's policy aims for peaceful coexistence with North Korea, though it does not abandon the eventual goal of unification, Bosworth said.

He stressed Kim's policy is based on the belief that peaceful unification can realistically only come through peaceful coexistence and the development of much closer economic ties.

During a visit to Berlin in March, Kim offered to provide infrastructure assistance to North Korea, but said this would have to take place "within an inter-Korean dialogue," Bosworth said. "For its part, of course, North Korea has fiercely resisted direct contact with South Korea for the past several years."

Kim is also encouraging the United States, Japan and other countries to move independently to try to normalize relations with North Korea in the hope that this will lead to an atmosphere more conducive to South-North engagement. "This is what he refers to when he talks about the need to end the Cold War structures on the Korean Peninsula," the ambassador said.

U.S. officials have been working for the past several months to try to reach agreement on a visit to Washington by a high-level North Korean official. "This would be basically a return visit for the one that Bill Perry made to Pyongyang last June," Bosworth said. "We would view this as an important step toward establishing an organized dialogue and toward moving down this path toward a more normal relationship."

Bosworth noted that South Korea has made a remarkable recovery from the economic crisis that swept Asia two years ago. "They've come back from a negative 6 percent growth in 1998 to 10 percent growth in 1999," he said.

South Korea has substantially reformed and restructured its economy, he said. "It's a much more open economy with far fewer impediments to our trade and, importantly, far fewer impediments to foreign direct investment, which has surged. They had more foreign direct investment in 1998 and 1999 than they had from 1960 through 1997, which gives you some idea of how they've opened this place up and turned in around."

"The contrast "between economic vibrancy in South Korea and what is happening in the North Korean economy is quite stark," Bosworth pointed out. The North's economy has declined steadily and, in some cases, accelerated in decline for most of the 1990s, he said.

North Korea had a slightly better harvest last year and has received a substantial humanitarian food assistance, he said. The North's industrial output remains low and a severe energy crisis burdens its internal transportation system.

"So one would think that prospects for the initiation of a coherent dialogue between South and North Korea should be improving," Bosworth said. "However, I think it's never safe to predict. I am confident that the South Korean government is going to continue pursuing this policy of engagement. It really is now up to the North Koreans to decide how they wish to respond.

On another front, U.S. and ROK officials are pursuing some bilateral matters, he said. The status of forces agreement, for example, concerns some South Korean factions. "We are talking to them about these problems diplomatically and we will continue to do so. I am quite confident that with some time and some patience and hard work we can resolve these problems," he said.

After his meetings, Cohen said U.S. and ROK officials have agreed to conduct status of forces agreement talks in April.

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