Although the United States has now expressed willingness to talk to Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons program, North Koreans may not be interested in talk but instead intend to “acquire as many nuclear weapons as they can by the spring,” a leading American expert on the Korean Peninsula said at an East-West Center conference that ended here yesterday.
What Kim Jong Il may “really be interested in is a breakdown strategy,” said Victor Cha, chair of Georgetown University’s D.S. Song-Korea Foundation. “And that is to acquire as many nuclear weapons as they can by the spring.”
Cha is participating in a three-day East-West Center conference of 20 leading Korean and U.S. experts on “Enhancing the Partnership Between Korea and the United States in the 21st Century.”
Although Cha said Tuesday that his view may conflict with other Korea experts who view Pyongyang’s recent actions as “traditional North Korea bargaining,” he said North Korea’s succession of provocative moves, including kicking nuclear inspectors out of the country, could mean it believes it “could get a better agreement” if the country has nuclear weapons.
Carter Eckert of Harvard University’s Korea Institute said North Korea won’t wait for U.S.-Iraq conflicts to be resolved but will instead “ratchet up” tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “What if they decide the best strategy is to develop nuclear weapons? We can’t rule that out.”
Another terrorist attack (on the United States) could lead the Bush administration to take an even stronger position against North Korea, Eckert said, suggesting Bush and South Korea’s President-elect Roh Moo Hyun hold a summit as soon as possible to declare joint-opposition to nuclear weapons in the North and commit to working together. “The new (South Korean) president will have to articulate a clear policy. Time is of the essence.”
Asked if North Korea really intends to develop nuclear weapons, In-Taek Hyun, a political science and international relations professor at Korea University, said Pyongyang is not sure about U.S. and South Korean military intentions. North Korea wants a non-aggression pact among the three countries but Hyun said “a confrontational policy will help Kim Jong Il.”
U.S. officials yesterday softened their approach to North Korea by saying they were willing to talk with Pyongyang about its nuclear weapons program. Before the Bush administration said it would not talk until the North first agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Hong Koo Lee, chair of the Seoul Forum for International Affairs and a former South Korean prime minister and ambassador to the United States, said North Korea has not confirmed it has nuclear bombs but insists “it has the right to bombs.” He warned against isolating North Korea and said Koreans “want a peaceful solution, not war.”
Lee and others at the conference agreed that the United States has not paid enough attention to its relationship with South Korea and that the two countries must enter into a more equal relationship. He said the relationship had remained one of “provider and recipient, patron and client.
“From the American side, you need to pay more attention to the fact that Korea has changed,” noting it has become the 12th largest economy in the world. “From the Korean side we must be aware of the U.S. psyche at the moment…the average Korean does not fully understand the impact of 9/11.”