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Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Visit to North Korea
is step toward peace

Bullet The issue: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has made a historic visit to North Korea.

Bullet Our view: True peace will require reduction of forces on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone.

SECRETARY of State Madeleine Albright's visit to North Korea and meetings with its enigmatic leader, Kim Jong Il, represent an event of historic proportions. However, it is too early to declare peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Albright was appropriately cautious when she remarked in a toast that "the road to fully normal relations remains uphill." But this first visit by an American secretary of state -- with a visit by President Clinton possibly to follow -- cannot help but reduce the steepness of that road. North Korea under Kim Il Sung and since his death six years ago under his son Kim Jong Il has been a place of mystery and repression, inaccessible to the non-Communist world for the most part since the uneasy truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

It has maintained a huge standing army that it could ill afford, particularly since the collapse of its patron, the Soviet Union, nearly a decade ago and years of crop failures. In 1994 Pyongyang created an international crisis by trying to develop nuclear weapons and balking at international inspection. North Korea's missile program and links to terrorism remain concerns in Japan as well as the United States.

Preceding the Albright visit, the summit meeting last June between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il was the real icebreaker. Although reunification is still a distant goal, both vowed to work for it and pledged to reduce tensions in the meantime.

In practical terms that has meant a brief reunion of families divided by the separation of North and South Korea, reopening of a railway across the Demilitarized Zone and more food aid.

But there has been no draw-down of North Korean armed forces, and South Korean forces -- supplemented by 37,000 U.S. soldiers -- remain on alert.

Establishment of direct ties with the United States seems like an obvious way to follow up the newly warming relations with Seoul. However, South Korea has long been wary of Pyongyang's efforts to go over its head and deal directly with the United States, as a tactic aimed at isolating the South diplomatically. Seoul will continue to fear that any deal between North Korea and the United States will be made at its expense. Washington must keep Seoul fully informed of developments and solicit its views on any changes in policy.

North Korea, for its part, has for years had as a primary goal the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. Washington has always spurned such suggestions, and even today is adamant on maintaining the status quo for the time being. A State Department official noted, "we need to remember that there is still a very serious North Korean military threat on the peninsula."

Despite all the polite language that diplomats use, the real proof that tensions have eased on the Korean Peninsula will be a substantial reduction in forces on both sides of the 38th Parallel. The current flurry of diplomatic activity may result in such a reduction. But until it occurs, it will be too soon to celebrate peace.

Terroristic redress

Bullet The issue: President Clinton is expected to sign into law a bill that would authorize using frozen U.S. assets of terrorist states to compensate victims of those nations.

Bullet Our view: An international court would be a more appropriate venue to determine awards for victims of international terrorism.

TURNING to American courts for redress from acts of international terrorism lacks a certain logic, but it may be effective. Congress and the Clinton administration have agreed to tap into frozen U.S. assets of terrorist states to pay compensation to American victims.

However, the U.S. courts are a questionable venue for those claims to be decided, because states named as defendants are not likely to participate in the judicial process.

That has been the case so far. More than $213 million has been awarded by courts to eight families that have won judgments against Iran, including Terry Anderson, the former news correspondent held hostage in Lebanon for more than six years, who will get $41 million.

The families of three Brothers to the Rescue pilots who were shot down by Cuba over the Florida straits in 1996 have been awarded $49.9 million from frozen Cuban assets. Neither Iran nor Cuba defended themselves in court, and both refuse to recognize the court's authority. Obviously, there is no appeal process in such cases.

The lawsuits were filed under a 1996 law that allows U.S. citizens to claim civil damages against countries that have been classified by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. Under the law, the U.S. government assumes responsibility for recovering the money from the defendant nations. In 1998, Congress enacted legislation allowing the compensation to be paid from frozen U.S. assets of the defendant nations.

Special legislation that President Clinton is expected to sign will authorize the specific awards to be paid to the 11 families from the frozen assets of Iran and Cuba, and to others with cases pending against Iran.

The Clinton administration agreed to the compensation after months of negotiation because of concerns about the plaintiffs' right to justice, diplomatic relations, national security and the possibility of retaliatory lawsuits, the Washington Post reported.

Ideally, an international court would be the proper venue for such claims to be heard. Imposing on the American judicial system to process these reliably one-sided decisions turns the U.S. courts into mere tools of retribution.

The trouble is that the more desirable approach is also much more difficult to achieve in the current state of international affairs.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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