Dialogue with N.Korea Is the Only Option

      July 12, 2010 12:36

      The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously adopted a presidential statement condemning the March 26 torpedo attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan. "The Security Council deplores the attack on 26 March 2010 which led to the sinking... resulting in the tragic loss of 46 lives," it said. "In view of the findings of the Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group led by the [South Korea] with the participation of five nations, which concluded that [North Korea] was responsible for sinking the Cheonan, the Security Council expresses its deep concern."

      The statement stopped short of directly accusing North Korea. "The Security Council takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from [North Korea], which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident," it said.

      The presidential statement was no diplomatic success for South Korea and the U.S. given the validity of the evidence that was gathered. But considering that China and Russia both protected North Korea, it was not a total failure. The wording reflected the extent to which South Korea and the U.S. can achieve anything by global diplomacy alone.

      The South Korean government demanded an apology from North Korea regarding the sinking of the Cheonan, punitive measures against those responsible for the attack and a promise not to repeat such offenses. Seoul cut off all trade with North Korea except for the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

      Since the Armistice in 1953, North Korea committed repeated provocations but rarely apologized. One exception was when North Korea told visiting South Korean intelligence chief Lee Hoo-rak in 1972 that an attempt by North Korean guerrillas to assassinate then-president Park Chung-hee in 1968 was "regrettable" and blamed the attack on radicals. Another exception was in 1996 when North Korea issued a statement "regretting" an attempted infiltration into South Korea by submarine on East Sea. But that statement came only after two months of negotiations with the U.S. Both exceptions took place while North Korean and U.S. and North-South Korean channels of communication were open.

      It is time to restart inter-Korean dialogue so that the South can hold the North to account for the attack and obtain a pledge not to repeat such offenses. The food shortage in North Korea has worsened since its disastrous currency reform at the end of last year, while South Korea is wondering how to dispose of 1.4 million tons of surplus rice. If Seoul is to give food aid to North Korea, the North itself must provide a reason to do so. It needs to choose whether it wants to starve its people and undermine the stability of the regime or seek a solution by putting the issue of the Cheonan on the dialogue table.

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