Making amends

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2002, 12:00am

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's 'Sunshine Policy' for peace with the rival North may be on its last legs, but that does not mean the future is bleak. In fact, rarely has the prospect for a chance for peace on the Korean peninsula been so positive.

Key to the new atmosphere is a change of heart by the United States. When President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, years of progress evaporated. US-North Korean talks were cancelled and Mr Bush's tough rhetoric culminated in him naming North Korea among an 'axis of evil nations'.

Last Thursday, Mr Kim's ruling Millennium Democratic Party was trounced by the opposition Grand National Party in local government elections. Although Mr Kim cannot stand for re-election in presidential polls in October, the result was a pointed reminder that his plan for Korean unity would die when he left office.

But talks the same day between Pyongyang's United Nations representative and US special envoy in negotiations on North Korea, Jack Pritchard, brought fresh hope. There is now talk of Washington sending an envoy to Pyongyang.

Shortly after a ground-breaking visit to Pyongyang by Mr Kim's special envoy, the North's leader Kim Jong-il spoke positively of a promised visit to Seoul. Reunions of families split by the Korean War have resumed. There is even a chance of an inter-Korean football match.

The signs are positive, but the US - more than any other nation - can effect real change. It is up to Mr Bush and his advisers to diplomatically re-ignite the process that for 18 months they have so woefully mismanaged.