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July 27, 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice. A key stipulation of that agreement was to work towards a political settlement to ensure lasting peace. Yet after a half century, political settlements in the form of peace treaty or diplomatic recognition between North Korea and the U.S. have not come to light and we still face a dangerous specter of renewed hostilities as military preoccupations and confrontational rhetoric cloud meaningful negotiations aimed at resolving the anachronistic stalemate. We should look at the current crisis over North Korea's nuclear program in this historical and political context.

At this critical juncture, what we need are bold initiatives and breakthroughs - not escalation or inaction.

A renewed war on the Korean Peninsula is unimaginable and catastrophic. U.S. policies toward the DPRK (North Korea), such as talks of embargo, preemptive strikes, and regime change, are pushing the Korean Peninsula dangerously close to war. By triggering reciprocal actions from the DPRK, these policies actually undermine U.S. security and economic interests while destabilizing the Northeast Asia region. The U.S. and DPRK governments need to immediately and unconditionally begin direct negotiations to normalize their relations, sign a peace treaty ending the Korean War, and resolve issues of contention peacefully. Such negotiations represent the best means to resolve U.S. concerns about North Korea's nuclear programs and North Korea's concerns about its security.

Northeast Asia has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. The U.S. has normalized relations with China, though troops from both sides fought during the Korean War. South Korea has normalized relations with Russia and China, overcoming its Cold War adversarial animosities. North and South Korea have signed a non-aggression agreement and are engaged in various economic and cultural exchanges. South Korea's official policy towards North Korea is that of engagement and cooperation. Koreans, in the north, south, and overseas want reconciliation and a peaceful resolution to this crisis. On the other hand, the U.S., along with Japan, refuses to diplomatically recognize the DPRK, but continues the Cold War-era policy of containment and isolating the North Korean regime.

For fifty years, Koreans and Americans have lived with the possibility of war in Korea. It is time to end the threat of war and normalize relations with North Korea. All of the surrounding countries, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia insist that the path of diplomacy, not war, is the path to take. The U.S. should steadily work for improved relations with North Korea. It should end the making of military threats. It should encourage expanded trade and investment with North Korea. It should seek the negotiation of a non-aggression pact with North Korea and a peace treaty to formally and finally end the Korean War.

Although there was a sign of breakthrough during the last stage of the Clinton Administration, as a flurry of diplomatic efforts culminated in the unprecedented visit of Secretary of State Madeline Albright to North Korea, relations between the U.S. and North Korea nose-dived during the Bush Administration, to the lowest point in many years. The only way to avert escalation of this crisis - one that may lead to a military confrontation - is to engage in negotiations for a peaceful resolution.

Publicly, both countries agree that the nuclear issue needs to be resolved peacefully, but the process is bogged down by differences in each other's understanding of negotiation format and agenda. The DPRK demands direct U.S.-North Korea negotiation, whereas the Bush Administration wants a multilateral dialog involving China, Japan and South Korea as well. Historically, attempts at multilateral approach have failed, as even the U.N. has failed to resolve the Korea issue. Furthermore, from North Korea's point of view, the reason why it opposes 5-way multilateral talks may be that Japan and South Korea are close allies of the U.S., with China taking a neutral stance.

We believe that a bilateral negotiation between the U.S. and the DPRK can go side-by-side with multilateral negotiations. These negotiation strategies are not mutually exclusive and can compliment the overall process toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The Bush Administration wants North Korea to commit to forgo nuclear weapon development. North Korea is demanding that the U.S. reverses antagonistic policies and guarantee its security. We believe the two positions are not mutually exclusive, but that they can -- and should be -- addressed together to bring forth a viable and comprehensive resolution. Continued postponement or inaction due to differences in negotiation's format and agenda are not acceptable and are detrimental to regional and global peace. Bold initiatives and breakthroughs are needed.

Committee for Self-Determination and Peace in Korea July 27, 2003, Washington, DC