Secretary of State George P. Shultz on Wednesday urged South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan to renew suspended negotiations on political reform, but he said the United States will not "go around twisting people's arms."
In his first detailed explanation of U.S. policy toward South Korea since the latest round of anti-government demonstrations broke out last week, Shultz said Washington must display patience while trying to nudge South Korea toward full democracy.
He said the United States should "exercise some restraint in not acting as though you've got all the answers."
'We Can't Snap Our Fingers'
"You've got to help them pull the answers out of their own environment," he said. "We can't snap our fingers and have people do whatever we think. But we try to make our views known."
A senior U.S. official said later that Washington has been "very forceful" in telling Chun that he should renew the constitutional talks with the opposition that he broke off in April. At that time, Chun said that the negotiations, aimed at making South Korean politics more democratic, would not be resumed until after the Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in South Korea next year.
The official, who declined to be identified by name, made it clear that Washington wants to see the talks restarted much sooner than after the Games.
In the meantime, he said, the South Korean government should institute democratic reforms that will not require constitutional change, perhaps by modifying the existing system of indirect presidential election to make it more reflective of the people's choice. He also urged the government to ease curbs on the press.
U.S. officials were heartened by the Seoul government's declaration Wednesday that it will try to end the current unrest by dialogue rather than by force. But the officials said that U.S. policy calls for the Chun government to do far more than that to bring about national reconciliation.
Shultz said Washington must be cautious in supporting political reform abroad because the United States pays a heavy price when U.S.-backed movements turn sour.
He spoke to reporters aboard his aircraft on the way from the Philippines to Singapore, where he is attending the annual meeting between representatives of the industrial Western nations and the foreign ministers of the six countries that make up the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations.
Not Like Philippines
Although Shultz said Tuesday that "every man is a Filipino" because of the courageous way the Philippines changed from dictatorship to democracy, he made it clear Wednesday that South Koreans should not expect to be treated like Filipinos--at least not in the sense that the United States would help to persuade an entrenched authoritarian government to give way to a popularly supported opposition.
Shultz said that over the past two decades, the United States has played a part in the transition from dictatorship to democracy in several Latin American countries, in the Philippines, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.
"This problem of managing transitions in countries from one kind of government to a more democratic government is extremely tricky," he said. "We have seen it all around the world and we have been involved in it all around the world.
"Each thing is different. We try to be there and to give counsel, to use our influence to see that these transitions take place in a peaceful and orderly way and in a way that is as consistent as possible with democratic principles. We've had a few cases where it didn't work. It didn't work in Nicaragua; it didn't work in Iran. We pay a heavy penalty when it doesn't work. So we have a big stake in seeing this movement to democracy succeed."
In South Korea, opposition groups are demanding a constitutional change to permit direct election of Chun's successor. The government has said that the next president will be picked by the same electoral college system that chose Chun. The opposition, which maintains that the government can easily rig such elections, says it will boycott the voting.
Shultz said the opposition must bear part of the responsibility for the current confrontation. He said Washington is urging the government to broaden the system and is calling on the opposition to stop demonstrating and take part in the balloting.
"We believe that discussions among the contesting parties about the procedure of the elections should be started up and pursued," Shultz said. "I might say we are in touch with all the contesting parties.
"The best thing that could happen would be if the demonstrations, with their potential for violence, were to stop and the dialogue were to resume."