As Tensions Subside Between Two Koreas, U.S. Strives to Adjust
Dating back five years to the "sunshine policy" of former South Korean president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae Jung, the détente between North and South has progressed steadily.
After halting its anti-North propaganda, South Korea's Unification Ministry has agreed to begin showing some North Korean news programs on its own Web site for local audiences. In recent weeks, the two Koreas have established a new telephone hotline linking their militaries.
North and South Korean athletes will march together under one flag next month at the Athens Olympics. And South Korean economic investment in the North, once mostly limited to a tourism resort near the border region of Mount Kumgang, is now expanding into industry.
Construction is underway on a new South Korean-backed industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong, which lies within the range of camera lenses near Panmunjom village. Trade between the two Koreas rose to $256.2 million during the first five months of 2004, up 22.3 percent from the same period last year -- largely because of increased aid flowing from South to North.
U.S. military officials in South Korea insist the troop realignment is not connected to a North-South détente. The move is part of a global strategy to shift American forces into more mobile positions for easier deployment to world hotspots, the officials said. They also said that advances in weapons technology and capabilities no longer required U.S. forces to be based so close to North Korea.
But South Korean and U.S. officials privately admit there is an ideological gap between Roh, viewed as perhaps South Korea's most progressive leader, and the Bush administration.
"On a range of issues, Washington and Seoul have increasingly divergent interests," said a senior Bush administration official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity. "With the next generation of decision makers in Seoul believing that Washington is more of a threat than Pyongyang, the situation will almost certainly get worse. . . . A growing number of people in Washington feel that our troops in South Korea limit our ability to respond to a crisis with North Korea."
Still, both sides insist the foundation of the alliance remains strong, and there have been some recent attempts to ease the strain.
Leaders of the Uri Party, allied to Roh and now in control of the South Korean legislature, visited Washington this month in an attempt to dispel fears that the party is anti-American. Meeting with Roh in Seoul the same week, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, offered a positive outlook for improved South-North relations. She also thanked Roh for his commitment to send 3,000 South Korean troops to Iraq, especially after the beheading of a South Korean civilian hostage there last month.
But the South Koreans say they are frustrated by divisions within the Bush administration over North Korean policy. At talks last month in Beijing aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs, the Bush administration -- after prodding from South Korea -- appeared to ease its demands for a "complete verifiable and irreversible dismantling" of Pyongyang's nuclear programs without any incentives up front. Washington offered the North the possibility of energy aid from South Korea, security assurances and other benefits during a three-month test period if it promised to disclose and end its nuclear weapons programs.
But during a speech last week at a Seoul university, John R. Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and one of the administration's top hawks on North Korea, outlined a more hard-line stance. He dismissed the notion of a negotiated nuclear freeze as a first step toward a broader deal and argued that the North Koreans should not receive incentives unless they first agree to a comprehensive disarmament agreement similar to the one recently struck with Libya -- a proposal the North Koreans have flatly rejected.
Bolton represents one powerful faction within a Bush administration split on Korea policy. A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said his "aggressive attitude" last week served to generate more confusion over what kind of deal Washington is willing to offer the North.
U.S. officials have expressed equally mixed views on the South's new ties with the North. But top South Korean officials insist that improved ties between South and North and relations between the United States and South Korea should not be regarded as mutually exclusive.
"People who think that way have a simplistic point of view," said Wi Sung Lac, senior policy coordinator for South Korea's National Security Council. "Even partners are not always 100 percent in conformity when it comes to their national interests. In our case, not moving forward in our dialogue with North Korea is something unimaginable considering the people's desire for reunification. The task before us is to promote rapprochement as well as alliance in good harmony."
Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company