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Complete denuclearization is key

Feb 22,2019
In regard to his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he did not think the meeting would be their last. His remarks could serve as some kind of “exit strategy” in case the summit does not show tangible results regarding the denuclearization of North Korea. Pyongyang is still reluctant to agree to the denuclearization steps Washington wants it to take.

Earlier, Trump said he does not have to hurry because he does not have an urgent timetable. The remark raises the possibility of Trump striking a “small deal” with Kim at the summit by focusing on simply freezing North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. That’s the scenario we are most concerned with because it means North Korea would still possess the nuclear weapons they already have.

Nevertheless, President Moon Jae-in told Trump in a phone conversation Tuesday night that if Trump demands economic assistance for North Korea — including reconnecting inter-Korean railways and roads — from South Korea, Seoul is ready to assume the role. No one would oppose providing economic aid to North Korea — no matter how much money is needed — as long as it can bring about denuclearization from Pyongyang. But the recalcitrant state is still refusing to make agreements, even with less than a week left before the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Under such circumstances, if our president expresses an intention to offer economic aid to North Korea even before it takes a step toward denuclearization, it only helps lower the hurdles. Moon’s position can also give the United States the impression that it would be enough for Washington to strike a deal with Pyongyang while transferring the cost burden to Seoul.

Our government must take a prudent position on North Korea. Seoul must tell Pyongyang that the only way for North Korea to survive is a promise of denuclearization at the Hanoi summit. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is scheduled to visit Seoul this weekend. We hope the Blue House can persuade him to advise Trump to get a promise of a complete denuclearization from Kim in return for concrete measures to help the struggling North Korean economy at the summit

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 30