Let's Not Repeat Past Mistakes of Denuclearization Deals
President Lee Myung-bak's proposal of a ``grand bargain" with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program is seen as an effort to press the recalcitrant communist state harder to return to the six-party talks. Lee made the proposal in a speech at a luncheon co-hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Korea Society and the Asia Society in New York Monday. The offer is drawing much attention as it came when Washington is seeking to have bilateral meetings with Pyongyang, riding on the wave of the North's conciliatory gestures.
President Lee might think that he cannot sit on his hands while the U.S. is changing its hard-line stance on North Korea and accepting the latter's offer for one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff. Doing something is certainly better than doing nothing. So it is apparent that Lee wants to take the initiative not only in the inter-Korean relations but also in the six-nation process of achieving the North's complete denuclearization. Of course, it is not easy for the South to lead the multilateral negotiations, as the nuclear issue's main players are North Korea and the U.S.
No one can forget that Pyongyang has long been employing a policy of having direct negotiations with Washington, while isolating Seoul in the international community. It is too early to believe that the North will soon give up this policy along with its notorious brinkmanship tactics. In this regard, the Kim Jong-il regime is giving the impression that it wants to hold bilateral talks with the Barack Obama administration in an apparent bid to weaken the U.N. sanctions against the North for its missile launch and second atomic bomb text. Whatever the reasons, the atmosphere for direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea is ripening.
Against this backdrop, Lee must have felt an urge to make clear that the U.S., South Korea and other allies should no longer play into the hands of North Korea because the Stalinist country has yet to show any sign of change in its quest for nuclear weapons. Therefore, his idea of a grand bargain is also designed to prod the U.S. to take a careful approach to deal with the North bilaterally. Lee said, ``We must not repeat our mistake of the past 20 years when we allowed the North Korean nuclear issue to return to its starting point by agreeing to a nuclear freeze and rewarding the North for such an agreement while ignoring the fundamental issue of complete nuclear dismantlement."
The mistake certainly refers to the acceptance of North Korea's ``salami strategy," under which the reclusive country had only made ``thin slices" of concessions for large incentives while keeping its nuclear program intact. It is important to break the vicious cycle of the North's taking one step backward for two steps forward. It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S., South Korea and other parties have been duped by North Korea through a series of deals ranging from the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement to the 2005 and 2007 six-party agreements. We should no longer tolerate the North's reckless and dangerous nuclear game.
Lee's grand bargain formula is to provide massive economic and political incentives ― including a security guarantee and international aid ― to the North if the impoverished state completely abandons its nuclear program. He added that the proposal may very well be the North's last chance to end the nuclear standoff without serious consequences. We urge Pyongyang not to miss the last chance.