+ A

Trust is the key

June 23,2017
President Moon Jae-in had interviews with CBS and the Washington Post ahead of his planned visit to Washington and first summit with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump next week. He revealed what to expect from his talks with senior officials in Washington.

He reaffirmed that he could renew dialogue with North Korea if conditions are met or are right. He used the same wording as U.S. Secretary of State Tex Tillerson, who said Washington would meet with Pyongyang “under the right conditions” or if “conditions are right” while explaining the “maximum pressure and engagement” policy toward North Korea. Moon tried to explain that his engagement policy on North Korea is no different from Washington’s.

He stressed that there could be no difference of opinion on North Korea policy as the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is their “common goal,” and both would turn to all possible pressure, sanctions and engaging means to achieve that goal.

He introduced a two-phased approach — first freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear activities and then, complete dismantlement in the weapons and facilities. The Trump administration has not specified exactly what the “right conditions” are for dialogue except that it depends on the change of attitude from Pyongyang. The two leaders should share their thoughts and find common ground if there are differences during the talks. He also emphasized that the environmental assessment does not mean postponement or reversal in the decision to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea.

The reopening of Kaesong inter-Korean industrial park and its expansion is something Seoul can pursue at a “later stage when North Korea has made some progress on denuclearization,” he said.

In interviews on U.S. media, Moon has attempted to alleviate some of the misunderstandings Washington may have over him and his policy to set the mood for the upcoming talks. The two cannot expect to solve many of the pending issues in their first meeting. They must instead use the meeting to build mutual trust and momentum on active communication. Seoul cannot expect to play a bigger role in solving Pyongyang’s nuclear issue and smoothly solve the Thaad conflict if it does not have the full backing of Washington. Korea’s diplomacy with other nations can go smoothly when the country’s relationship with the U.S. is solid. Trust-building is most important.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30