'Secret' U.S.-N. Korea deal irks South
South Korea's conservative president will meet with Bush Friday, as the US appears to soften its stance on North Korea.
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"As far as I know they just acknowledge the memorandum," he explains. "North Korea may say it 'understands' [the] memorandum," he goes on, "but 'understands' has a meaning that is different from 'I know' or "I confirm.' "Skip to next paragraph
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The reward for US acceptance of the North Korean position includes compliance with two longstanding North Korean demands: removal of North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism and lifting of economic sanctions imposed under the US "trading-with-the-enemy" act.
At the same time, North Korea would complete disabling its well-publicized facilities at Yongbyon – where it has produced warheads with plutonium at their core – and move on to permanently dismantling its entire nuclear program.
Pressure to accommodate
For all the apprehensions about the outcome of the Singapore meeting, however, the sense is that Lee may go along with it if only to advance South Korea's interests in other areas.
"There's no other way but to accommodate it," says Paik Hak Soon, director of North Korean studies at the Sejong Institute, which worked closely with the governments of Kim Dae Jung and Mr. Kim's successor, Roh Moo Hyun, on North-South reconciliation.
"The previous policy has been to facilitate the process of denuclearization," says Mr. Paik. "The rational way," he says, "is to keep both channels open." These include the six-party talks to persuade North Korea to live up to agreements on abandoning its nuclear program and inter-Korean dialogue building on the North-South summit of last October, in which North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il and South Korea's President Roh vowed to forge ahead on economic issues.
North Korea, however, has canceled all dialogue with the South. In recent days it has called Lee a "traitor," "imposter," and "sycophant" for demanding reciprocity on any deal with the North and verification of compliance with the nuclear agreement.
Lee "has failed to improve inter-Korean relations," Paik continues. "North Korea has its own interests to upgrade deteriorating relations. South Korea is losing some leverage."
North Korea's most pressing interest now may be the threat of a food crisis similar to that in the 1990s, in which up to 2 million people died. The World Food Program's Asia director, Tony Banbury, described North Korea as nearing a food crisis that is "bad and getting worse." The UN agency estimates that North Korea's food deficit this year will be twice that of last year. Foreign help is "urgently required to avert a serious tragedy," he said.
North Korea, however, has not made its annual request for food and fertilizer with South Korea. But it has spurned Lee's program, "Vision 3000," in which he has said he wants to help rebuild the North's economy so the average North Korean will earn the equivalent of $3,000 a year, many times the current level.
To accomplish this, "Lee doesn't have any other option than to accommodate," says Paik. For that reason, "what happened in Singapore is a breakthrough," he adds.