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Providing A Steady Hand In The Koreas



The Korean peninsula appears headed for one of the more decisive periods in its long, tortured history--one that will determine whether it builds a strong, unified nation or spirals downward. The challenge for the outside world, now that North Korea's longtime leader, Kim Il-Sung, is dead and his mysterious son, Kim Jong-Il, has taken the helm of this xenophobic country, is to watch North Korea through more than just the prism of Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Many South Koreans in government and business believe the overwhelming priority for their country is to begin building trust with their northern neighbor by adopting a step-by-step economic engagement. This extremely complex process will be fraught with peril at every point. The near-universal expectation is that the younger Kim will not be able to manage his country ably. Watch for mounting pressures on South Korea to open trade and investment and to foster links with the north in order to prevent an economic meltdown and avoid an influx of hungry northerners.

During this delicate period, the U.S. in particular should continue talks with the north about its nuclear program while encouraging the south's attempts to reach out economically to the north. It's the best option for staving off chaos in the north and solving the nuclear problem.

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