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Russia is no savior

Apr 29,2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok on April 25, his first overseas summit after the collapse of his Feb. 28 talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. Kim’s turning to an old communist ally dashes hopes for a breakthrough in the peace process after the April 27, 2018 inter-Korean meeting in Panmunjom that set a milestone for dialogue.

In his talks with Putin, Kim blamed the United States for the breakdown in denuclearization talks and emphasized that the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula “entirely depends on the future attitude of the U.S.” He said his country would be “ready for all possible circumstances.” His comments suggest he would stop pursuing denuclearization talks with the U.S and instead seek stronger ties with such traditional allies as China and Russia. Putin also said “regime security” should be ensured for North Korea and that any discussions about security should be discussed within the six-nation format.

A denuclearization process that has been led by the two Koreas and the U.S. will now involve Russia. Putin may have brought up the dormant six-party platform to strengthen Moscow’s say in Korean affairs. His involvement could shake the top-down denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. Russia’s intrusion also goes against Seoul’s interests. The North Korean nuclear issue is an affair that should be solved between Pyongyang and Washington. Expanding the negotiations to a six-party framework would only complicate — and delay — any progress.

Putin noted North Korean workers were doing well in Russia and added “there could be solutions to the problem.” Under UN Security Council Resolution 2397, Russia must send home 11,000 North Koreans working in the country by the year’s end. Russia would be breaking UN sanctions if it let them stay. The “maximum pressure” on North Korea to force it to surrender weapons program through sanctions could weaken if Russia starts breaking the rules.

Pyongyang should become more sensible and realistic. The mood in Washington is changing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said negotiations with North Korea were “bumpy.” He threatened to “change paths” if “good faith negotiations” break down.

North Korea’s return to provocations with nuclear weapons and missile tests could be suicidal. Russia cannot be its savior. Putin cannot deliver aid when needed, given Russia’s role in the UN Security Council and pressure from Washington. Kim must come to a full awareness that a big deal with Washington is the only way.

JoongAng Sunday, April 27-28, Page 34