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Remember what’s at stake

Jan 09,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support for inter-Korean dialogue and a willingness to build up the momentum for a peaceful solution to North Korean problems. Speaking on the first high-level talks to be held between the two Koreas on Tuesday, Trump said he wished “to see it work out between the two countries. I’d like to see them getting involved in the Olympics and maybe things go from there.” If “something” could come out of the talks, Trump called it “a great thing for all of humanity.” He said he was willing to talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if Pyongyang makes moves towards denuclearization.

Given all the fiery war talk and hard-line stances including a military option, Trump has made a significant about-face on the North Korea front so as not to splash cold waters on the hard-won momentum for dialogue. Washington’s position would give strength to Seoul’s initiative to solve North Korean problem in a peaceful way. Trump also backed Seoul’s hopes to bring North Koreans to the upcoming Winter Olympics.

At the same time, the stakes have gone up for Seoul. Washington agreed to put off joint military drills to ease tensions during the Olympics.
Seoul would lose face and credibility from Washington if the upcoming talks stop at arranging North Korean participation at PyeongChang. It must somehow develop the momentum to set the grounds for denuclearization talks.

The worst scenario is North Korea going back to its provocations by launching new missile tests after the Olympics. If that happens, Seoul would bear the blame for having given time to Pyongyang to advance its weapons program. It may not be able to argue against a military option. Seoul must be fully aware of the high stakes at the table.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 8, Page 30