The South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers on Saturday agreed that before direct talks between Japan and North Korea or a resumption of six-party nuclear talks, there have to be inter-Korean talks. Japan's Seiji Maehara supported Seoul's position that the North must first take positive and responsible action over the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said in his meeting with his South Korean counterpart last Friday any multinational talks on the Korean Peninsula should only be preceded by inter-Korean dialogue. The North "must stop these dangerous provocations and take concrete steps to show that they will begin meeting their international obligations," he added.
As they have made concerted efforts to pressure and sanction the North, so South Korea, the U.S. and Japan must work together toward inter-Korean dialogue, as the ministers stressed. That would increase pressure on the North to stop its bad habit of disrupting dialogue with each separate nation once it gets the material aid it wants.
Chun Young-woo, the presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, stressed in an interview on U.S. television last Friday that the six-party talks and inter-Korean dialogue cannot resume unless North Korea first apologizes for the provocations. He said North Korea cannot survive without outside aid but the regime has put its resources into military spending instead of improving people's living conditions. If that continues, the North can collapse at any time, he warned. It was the first time the government directly called for an apology as a prerequisite to resuming dialogue.
The condition will be put to its first test at the U.S.-China summit in Washington on Wednesday. The U.S government said that the Korean Peninsula question will be the most important international issue to be discussed at the summit. But China has not admitted that the North torpedoed the Cheonan and maintains that the two Koreas are both responsible for the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. For now, there is no chance that Beijing will change its position. But unless it does, Pyongyang will not readily accept Seoul's condition.
The government should concentrate its diplomatic efforts on persuading China to sympathize, expressly or tacitly, with the condition. And it should think hard what it is going to do if these efforts are unsuccessful.