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Moon pitches Yongbyon dismantlement concept

June 27,2019
President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that if North Korea dismantled its Yongbyon nuclear complex, the country’s denuclearization would be in an “irreversible stage.”

“If all of the nuclear facilities in the complex, including the plutonium reprocessing facilities and the uranium enrichment facilities, are completely demolished and verified,” Moon said in a written interview with seven global news agencies including Yonhap, “it would be possible to say that the denuclearization of North Korea has entered an irreversible stage.”

During his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to dismantle at least some of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which includes a 5-megawatt plutonium production reactor.

Trump said Pyongyang had to do more for sanctions relief. That summit collapsed without a deal and led to an impasse in denuclearization dialogue ever since.

Yet the United States is engaged in “behind-the-scenes talks” with North Korea for a possible third summit, Moon said in the interview, noting that “there will be substantive progress if the two sides continue negotiations based on what was discussed in Singapore and Hanoi.” Kim and Trump’s first summit was in Singapore on June 12 of last year.

Moon noted that Kim and Trump recently exchanged letters and “continue to express unwavering trust in each other.”

“Moreover, both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” said Moon. “It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit.”

He also said that South-North dialogue is “underway” through “diverse channels to sustain inter-Korean talks,” crucial because “complete denuclearization and a permanent peace regime on the peninsula are tasks that cannot be achieved overnight.”

While there has been “considerable headway” made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, Moon noted that the “resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the United States will take it to the next level.”

Moon added, “I am ready to meet with Chairman Kim at any time,” adding he is prepared to meet the North Korean leader “in person at any given moment without being restrained by time, place or formalities.”

Moon’s interview came ahead of a Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, and his summit with Trump in Seoul this weekend, important diplomatic opportunities to discuss the denuclearization issue.

Kim, he said, “is quite a flexible, yet resolute person.”

Moon added that Kim’s “unequivocal resolve is to move from the past to the future by opting for economic development instead of a nuclear arsenal.”

In their three summits over the past year, Moon said that Kim, “expressed his intent to finalize a denuclearization process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development.”

He “never linked denuclearization” with the South Korea-U.S. alliance or a “pullout of the United States” from the peninsula, Moon said.

“Together with the confirmation of North Korea’s determination to achieve denuclearization, it’s important to create an environment where the North can focus on taking relevant steps,” said Moon, adding that Kim needs to be “helped along the path” to sustain “his commitment to nuclear dismantlement.”

Moon said he looks forward to Kim “demonstrating this kind of flexible determination during denuclearization negotiations as well.” The fastest way to diplomatically resolve the problem, he added, is “creating a security environment where Chairman Kim can decisively act on nuclear dismantlement without worries.”

Likewise, with “substantive progress” in the North-U.S. denuclearization talks, Moon said that inter-Korean economic cooperation, including the resumption operations of the shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex “will gain momentum.” It could also help the international community “seek a partial or gradual easing” of the United Nations Security Council sanctions on the North.

To properly develop inter-Korean relations, economic cooperation projects need to ensue, he noted, which would require the lifting of the international economic sanctions regime - which can happen when there is “substantive progress in North Korea’s denuclearization.”

Moon said he told Trump to “actively utilize” inter-Korean economic cooperation as “one of the corresponding measures to North Korea’s substantive denuclearization steps” to present a vision of a bright future for Pyongyang.

Yet for the North-U.S. talks to resume in earnest, Moon said negotiators will have to clarify a definition of denuclearization, something not decided upon in the Hanoi summit and “determine what kind of measures the North will have to complete to say that substantive denuclearization has been achieved - in other words, to regard the North as having entered an irreversible stage.” The key, he said, is reciprocal “trust.”

Moon also stressed that the inter-Korean military agreement of Sept. 19, 2018, has helped to de-escalate border tensions and proper implementation will enable a “stage of further enhancing transparency concerning military postures by exchanging pertinent information through the inter-Korean joint military committee and observing military drills and training.”

On strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo, Moon said, “the governments of our two countries have to pool our wisdom to prevent historical issues from damaging forward-looking cooperative relations.”

Tokyo has been protesting the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of wartime forced labor.

“In order to advance Korea-Japan relations, history issues should not be exploited for domestic political gain,” Moon added. “Even though Korea and Japan signed treaties, the wounds from the past are surfacing anew as international norms develop and awareness of human rights is enhanced, and, above all, it should be accepted that the victims are still suffering from the pain.”

Seoul last week proposed creating a fund voluntarily financed by Korean and Japanese companies to compensate World War II forced labor victims, but Tokyo rejected the offer, saying that the issue had been resolved under the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations.

Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are not scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. But Moon said the “door is always open for dialogue,” calling on Japan to take “advantage of the opportunity.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]