As U.S. Special Envoy Stephen Bosworth makes a historic trip to North Korea this December, Koreans and those concerned about the Korean Peninsula await — either for good news — or for more of the same. No high ranking U.S. official has made this trip since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang in 2000, and almost nine years of bilateral bitterness, sanctions and nuclear tests have intervened.
Writing on Forbes.com on December 4th, Gordon Chang called for the U.S. Special Envoy to North Korea not to make the trip, asserting that the U.S. is merely placating China. Chang wrote, “Nobody has much hope for Bosworth’s mission” and that Pyongyang hasn’t agreed to what the U.S. stipulated as prior conditions. Human Rights Watch, on the other hand, wants Bosworth and recently confirmed U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King, to pressure Pyongyang to include human rights along with food aid monitoring and the treatment of people who migrate across the border in any subsequent bilateral talks. But what do Koreans and Korean Americans want? As members of the National Campaign to End the Korean War, we know that now is an optimal time for bilateral dialogue with North Korea. Both the U.S. and North Korea have failed earlier agreements, and while the U.S. places sole blame on Pyongyang, much of the time, as Leon Sigal of the Social Science Research Council has stated, “Pyongyang was not alone in failing to keep its agreements. Unfortunately, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul didn’t manage to keep theirs either.” On the other hand, this summer’s trip by former President Clinton and the release of two American journalists has provided a new opportunity for dialogue that should not be dismissed. And while we would agree that human rights issues need to be addressed, we would assert that one of the most important and basic human right is that of security – to be able to live in peace. As long as North Korea feels under the threat of war — because in fact, we are still technically in a state of war — there is no real incentive for Pyongyang to disarm and denuclearize the country — much less change its internal human rights situation. Concrete steps towards removing that state of war would include security guarantees, diplomatic recognition and regular exchanges in order to reduce tensions and build mutual trust on both sides. This sustainable diplomatic process would pave the way for both the U.S. and North Korea to cross the threshold towards signing a peace treaty. The U.S. and both Korean states have spent over half a century in a militarized standoff. More than 75 million Korean people have suffered the trauma of an unfinished war, the separation of families, and a divided peninsula that used to be one country. Christine Ahn of the Korea Policy Institute has stated in these pages, “Amid the changing political dynamics in Northeast Asia landscape, one thing remains constant: the Korean peoples’ desire for peace and reunification.” In a few weeks, we will welcome in the new year. In 2010, we will also observe the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War. We can only hope that Bosworth’s visit to Pyongyang and the Obama administration’s ensuing actions will help Koreans realize the dream for peace, and a reunified people and homeland.
About the National Campaign to End the Korean War
The National Campaign to End the Korean War is the collaboration of more than 50 leading Korean-Americans, veterans, and human rights organizations working to promote a U.S.-Korea policy that will bring about a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. Our goal is to finally end the 1950-1953 Korean War through the signing of a peace treaty between the United States and North Korea. For more information, please visit: http://www.endthekoreanwar.org.