Tracking Number:  219261

Title:  "Nuclear Issue Keeps North and South Korea Apart." North Korea seems ready to seek an accommodation with South Korea, but the nuclear issue stands in the way, according to State Department analyst John Merrill. (920312)

Date:  19920312


03/12/92 *

NUCLEAR ISSUE KEEPS NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA APART (Article on Asia Society panel discussion) (530) By Jim Shevis USIA Staff Writer Washington -- North Korea seems ready to seek an accommodation with South Korea, but the nuclear issue stands in the way, State Department analyst John Merrill says.

"This is a roadblock. It's holding everything up," Merrill said during a March 11 panel discussion on inter-Korean relations sponsored by the Asia Society's Washington center. "Can North Korea any longer afford this luxury?"

North Korea -- one of nine countries said by private experts, but not official sources, to possess nuclear-bomb manufacturing capability -- has been reluctant to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Since last spring, with the dual entry of North and South Korea into the United Nations, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has done a lot to change, Merrill said, emphasizing to the audience that he was expressing his private views, not necessarily his official ones. But, he added, North Korea is a hard country to read, he said.

"The first problem is the meaning of what we hear from North Korea. Too often, we tend to look at fragments. Secondly, North Korea tries to portray an image of infallibility on everything. Consequently, shifts are very, very slow, Merrill said.

"There are straws in the wind out there, but you never know for sure." Merrill appeared on the panel with Korean scholar Suh Dae-Sook, director of the Korean studies center at the University of Hawaii. Selig Harrison, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, moderated the discussion.

Harrison noted that North Korea's heavy defense burden -- about 25 percent of total government spending -- has resulted in fewer consumer goods for its population of 21 million. This, in turn, has led to a policy struggle over whether to seek an accommodation with South Korea and the United States, he said.

"The North Korean people have had to sacrifice for years, fighting the good fight for principle, but I think they're getting tired of that," Merrill said. "The leaders seem to be aware of that, and are trying to bring more and more people into the system.

"I think there is a growing recognition of the problem, but a reluctance to go too far to change the system. So far, we have not seen a cut in the budget of the military expenditures."

Suh said he was not optimistic about an accommodation between North and South Korea nor over North Korea's entirely giving up its nuclear capability.

Both Suh and Merrill agreed that North Korean President Kim Il Sung soon will turn over the reins of government to his son, Kim Jong Il. There is some speculation that the elder Kim may step down on his 80th birthday on April 15.

"Much of the power has already gone over to his son," Suh said, "and it may just be a formality."

The 49-year-old Kim has been running many government functions, including foreign policy, for years with advice from his father, Merrill observed. In December 1991, the son was named supreme commander of the North Korean armed forces.


File Identification:  03/12/92, EP-405
Product Name:  Wireless File
Product Code:  WF
Thematic Codes:  1EA; 1AC
Target Areas:  EA
PDQ Text Link:  219261
USIA Notes:  *92031205.EPF