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Accept the proposal

Dec 14,2017
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s proposal for dialogue with North Korea draws our special attention. At a seminar in Washington Tuesday, Tillerson said, “Let’s just meet.” It was the same day on which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that the country had completed its nuclear weapons development. Tillerson’s remarkable announcement represents a sharp departure from the U.S. administration’s past position that talks would only begin after Pyongyang scrapped its nuclear program.

It was the first time a U.S. secretary of state demonstrated a willingness to meet with Kim without any strings attached. Tillerson said that it would be unrealistic for America to offer dialogue with North Korea only after it gave up on a nuclear program that cost a huge amount of money. Tillerson’s remarks suggest the possibility of Washington not raising the issue of denuclearization in the initial stages of talks. Chinese media raised a hoopla over the United States “making a big concession.”

Security analysts say that North Korea’s successful launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM last month has led to some room for talks between Washington and Pyongyang. But it is too early to say that the nuclear crisis has finally begun to subside, as seen by warnings by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that President Donald Trump’s thinking about North Korea has not changed. In addition, National Security Advisor Herbert H.R. McMaster’s remarks — that this is the international community’s “last best chance” to avoid military confrontation with North Korea — could translate into more of an ultimatum than a concession.

Tillerson said that the United States and China had discussed contingency action plans, including ones that would involve the collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime. He added that China has been preparing for an exodus of refugees if a war began on the Korean Peninsula. Tillerson also stated that he promised Beijing that U.S. Forces will retreat to South Korea ultimately even if they cross the DMZ in times of emergency.

Tillerson’s proposal for dialogue is a double-edged sword: The United States is exerting its last diplomatic efforts toward North Korea before taking a military option. North Korea must come to the negotiating table.

At the same time, the Moon Jae-in administration must make sure Uncle Sam does not ignore South Korea in dialogue with North Korea. The government must prepare for any contingencies. We hope Moon has meaningful talks with China’s President Xi Jinping today.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 14