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Does the U.S. Really Want Peace in Korea?

September 08, 2000|CHALMERS JOHNSON | Chalmers Johnson's latest book is "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" (Metropolitan Books, 2000)

Since peace started to break out in Korea last June, the United States has responded only with bitter carping. The U.S. does everything it can to produce a peace treaty--any treaty--between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it downplays steps toward reconciliation between North and South Korea.

The United States still keeps 37,000 combat troops in South Korea. The South Korean people have become so irritated with the continued American presence in their country that the U.S. 8th Army has ordered U.S. troops and their dependents to use the "buddy system" when leaving their bases in order to prevent assaults on them.

North Korea is the United States' dream boogeyman, its justification for bases in South Korea and Japan and the most frequently cited reason why we need a national missile defense system. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) has said that if the Republicans are elected, there would be an end to the offered rapprochement with the North. This would preserve the huge vested interests of the Pentagon and defense industry in keeping the Cold War alive in East Asia.

On Tuesday at Frankfurt Airport in Germany, a 15-member delegation from North Korea was en route to the United Nations Millennium Summit. The delegates had completed departure procedures and were about to board an American Airlines flight to New York when people the North Koreans referred to as "U.S. air security agents" stopped them. The Koreans said that after searching the delegates' baggage, the agents searched "every sensitive part of the body." When they came to the head of the North Korean delegation, Kim Yong Nam, who is also head of North Korea's Assembly, the North Koreans balked. The Koreans say the agents canceled their reservations to prevent them from departing. The delegation then canceled its trip and returned to North Korea.

The U.S. later offered as an explanation that North Korea was one of eight "rogue nations" (now called "states of concern") designated by the U.S. State Department and that the delegates had to undergo U.S.-defined search procedures to board a U.S. flag carrier.

North Korea is a member of the United Nations, and the delegation held visas to enter the U.S. as well as invitations to a reception hosted by President Clinton. It was expected that Kim Yong Nam would meet with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in New York. It would have been the highest-level meeting between the two Koreas since Kim's journey to North Korea last June, which opened a peace process that has both sides declaring that "the threat of war on the Korean peninsula is over."

After the hassle at the airport, the North Korean deputy foreign minister, Choe Su Hon, said the airport incident was intended to derail the meeting between the two Korean leaders and frustrate the Korean peoples' desire to reunify their country.

In Pyongyang, North Korea asserted that "the U.S. will come to know what a dear price it will have to pay for having hurt our people's dignity" and that the United States' "hostile policy toward the DPRK [North Korea] has not changed even a bit." In Seoul, even the conservative English-language daily, Korea Times, demanded that Washington apologize and rejected its explanation that this was an "innocent mistake."

The Clinton administration waffled. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "It was a combination of unfamiliarity with our procedures [presumably on the part of the North Koreans] and I think some unfamiliarity on the part there [in Germany] with the delegation coming through." The State Department's spokesman claimed that "this incident did not occur at the instigation or with the knowledge of anybody in the United States government." However, he added that, while diplomats accredited to the United States or the United Nations are exempt from searches, "this delegation did not qualify for that exemption."

This incident in Germany appears to be the diplomatic equivalent of the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade--an outrageous act explained by the flimsiest of excuses.

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