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Outside View: Reducing Korean Tensions

Pusan harbour

Pusan, South Korea (UPI) Nov 26, 2005
The port city of Pusan was the place in which refugees from all over the peninsula, north and south, converged during the Korean war of the 1950s. This city symbolizes the Koreans' love for each other.

That was how South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, the host of an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) forum meeting in this South Korean city, began the last paragraph of his address at the forum's central event -- the APEC business summit attended by Pacific Rim economic leaders.

These words were spoken in an impromptu manner and the president failed to make it to the official printed text of the speech. The address -- in line with the summit's profile -- was dedicated to economic matters. But the economic approach to the "Korean nuclear crisis," sheds additional light on the prospects of its solution. Not to mention that a forum meeting on Korean soil cannot be without a "Korean accent."

For several years the North Korean nuclear issue has figured markedly both at APEC forums and at negotiations held on the sidelines by Pacific economic leaders. This is understandable; the solution of this question is crucial for the economic prospects not only of South Korea but also of nearly all the 21 APEC members.

The tradition was born at a forum in Los Cabos (Mexico) in 2002. The United States and Japan tried to make the forum adopt the toughest possible resolution against North Korea, which was accused of pursuing military nuclear programs. But other APEC participants -- in particular, Russia, China and South Korea -- scuttled this initiative. This episode in Los Cabos predetermined the subsequent alignment of forces at six-way negotiations that soon opened in Beijing and which were attended by all the above-mentioned countries.

Progress at these negotiations after the September round has been obvious, yet the new round that followed just before the APEC forum looks less impressive. Its participants explained the break in the talks (perhaps until January) by the need to stage an APEC forum, which was expected to inject fresh ideas and initiatives into North Korean nuclear diplomacy.

These ideas proliferated -- if not at the forum itself, then at separate negotiations held with President Roh Moo-Hyun by some of the heads of state making official visits to South Korea. They were in particular Presidents George W. Bush, Hu Jintao of China and Vladimir Puti of Russian. Roh also had a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Every member of the group of six (apart from North Korea, which is not an APEC member) has had the chance to discuss everything of interest to it.

There are positions that unite all conferees. Every one of them, for example, in some or other wording, has stressed that they could not accept North Korea having nuclear weapons. And all of them somehow or other have called for continued six-way talks.

At their meeting Roh and Bush conceived a new idea: to open with Pyongyang different types of negotiations -- to conclude a peace treaty, which is lacking, because the war that involved the United States and in fact China and the Soviet Union apart from the two Koreas ended in an armistice in 1953. But it is yet to be seen how seriously Pyongyang will treat this idea, and how many months, or years, the "second track" of Korean settlement will take to develop.

On the whole, according to the International Herald Tribune, Bush and Roh once again "agreed to disagree" on the Korean issue, and this, apart from their decision to open dialog on the substance of an American-South Korean alliance. This disagreement does not promise rapid progress at the six-way negotiations.

But there is a "third track," and it was in full evidence in Pusan. In those days South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young gave several interviews and had a large article published in The Korea Herald. He said that following the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 trade between the two Koreas rose to $1 billion, while the number of trips to the North and back would soon hit 100,000, including 10,000 family reunions. The railroads of the two halves of the peninsula are already linked, and soon air transportation will commence.

Remembering that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his article printed in local media before his visit also mentioned a trans-Korean rail project as an example of future business possibilities in the region.

Next year, Minister Chung goes on to say, about 300 companies from the South will start functioning in the industrial zone of the town of Keson, 12 kilometers north of the border. The government is seeking peace and co-prosperity via the restoration of the North Korean economy and mutually beneficial cooperation, he concludes.

It does not look as though South Koreans make allowance for a "total embargo" on Pyongyang, expressed by the most radical American experts on this question. This is evidently because Seoul will allow no embargo or other heavy-handed measures against the North.

It appears that in Pusan, South Korea has confirmed its leading role in resolving the Korean issue. Its recipe is to create, in parallel with six nation talks, a new reality between the two Koreas, which will perhaps have a stronger impact on the negotiations than diplomatic words.

Moscow and Beijing, the two remaining direct neighbors of Pyongyang, are quite pleased with this line of Seoul.

Dmitry Kosyrev is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

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