Catch-22:

Lee Myung-Bak, the pro-business conservative who won a landslide presidential election last week in South Korea, has pledged to improve relations with the US and to demand more from North Korea. These goals may contradict or reinforce each other. The key will be what happens to the denuclearisation agreement with North Korea that the UShas embraced.

For the sake of security in Asia, Bush should encourage Lee to be as pragmatic on North Korea as on economic policy. Indeed, Lee won his impressive victory because of promises to increase economic growth sharply and boost per capita income. If he takes a tough line now on North Korea he could scare away investment capital needed to fuel the economic growth he promised.

Lee may help if North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong recognizes that, unlike his predecessors, Lee will suspend South Korean economic aid to the North in the event Kim does not live up to his commitments. But Lee might also be tempted to align himself with hard-liners in his own party and in Washington, placing obstacles in the way of an agreement that may lead to denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula and normalisation of relations between North Korea and the US. If he does, he will end up breaking the key campaign promises that got him elected. —The Boston Globe