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Avoiding the ‘small deal’

Feb 11,2019
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, left Seoul Sunday after wrapping up his three-day negotiations in Pyongyang with his new counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain, to prepare for a second U.S.-North summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, to denuclearize the recalcitrant state.

Biegun, who dropped by Seoul after his trip to Pyongyang, told South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha Saturday that the negotiations in Pyongyang had been productive. The U.S. Department of State announced Biegun will meet his North Korean counterpart again to fix details of denuclearization talks.

Earlier, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea approved the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ humanitarian aid to North Korea. Given such developments on North Korea, the preparations for the second U.S.-North summit seem to be going smoothly. We welcome the changing environment given the strong need to solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum peacefully.

Though Biegun did not reveal what was discussed between himself and Kim, it is almost certain that both sides exchanged views on what kind of concrete denuclearization steps North Korea should take in exchange for Uncle Sam’s proposals. Washington reportedly proposed to Pyongyang that it first submit a list of its nuclear facilities followed by a group of international experts inspecting them and expanding the scope of dismantlement later on.

That constitutes a “phased denuclearization process.” As the North’s nuclear weapons and facilities can hardly be removed all at once, that approach sounds reasonable. Even though it falls short of our expectations for a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, the solution nevertheless carries significance as long as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un can agree on substantial denuclearization steps and corresponding measures in Hanoi and implement them faithfully.

But Washington must not allow Pyongyang to deceive it this time as it did in the past. The Trump administration must make clear what is really meant by the North’s promise, for instance, to shut down its nuclear facility in Yongbyon, which still has an old Russian reactor, as well as plutonium-reprocessing and uranium-enrichment units. If North Korea simply agrees to a closing of the old reactor, that is meaningless. The Moon Jae-in administration must prevent Trump from striking a “small deal” with Kim to lift sanctions in return for removing ICBMs for solely domestic reasons.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, Page 30