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A Proactive Approach to Engaging North Korea: Boldness, Flexibility,and Inclusiveness
Published May 25, 2011
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In October 2002, Pyongyang officials implicitly agreed to Assistant Secre- tary of State James Kelly’s charge that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) had been pursuing a new course of nuclear development through nourishing highly enriched uranium (HEU). The is- sue of North Korea’s nuclear development returned to the front page of the world’s major newspapers, and this renewed international attention augured a second nuclear debacle on the Korean peninsula. Before that point, North Korean nuclear developments had theoretically been frozen since the 1994 Agreed Framework, in which Pyongyang pledged to cease and gradually dis- mantle any nuclear development program in exchange for economic, politi- cal, and security benefits from the outside (particularly the United States). The Agreed Framework has been praised as one of the Clinton administration’s greatest foreign policy achievements. The South Korean (ROK) administration of Kim Dae-jung followed a more accommodating version of engagement and accomplished the epochal South-North summit meeting while it broadened extensively the social, economic, and political exchanges between the two sides. Kim’s approach, which has come to be known as the Sunshine Policy, has effected significant ideological change in South Korean society. South Koreans began to perceive the South-North re- lationship more from a perspective of reconciliation and cooperation with the “northern national partner” than from an attitude of containment of and confrontation with “the Communists.” Thus, liberals and progressives who had long opposed conservatives’ hard-line policies have raised their voices, and their ideas have become the core of Seoul’s policies.
However, when the Kim Dae-jung government’s illegal under-the-table payment to Pyongyang was revealed, the crafty and duplicitous management style of the Sunshine Policy brought a political backlash against engagement and raised public doubts of its effectiveness. Moreover, the recent discovery of a new North Korean nuclear program requires a fundamental review of engagement with Pyongyang. This paper explores the current status of North Korean issues and proposes a more effective approach to engagement from a proactive perspective.

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