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Getting closer

Feb 22,2018
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that a meeting between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, which was arranged by the Moon Jae-in administration, was not held after the North Koreans backed out at the last minute. The paper said that discussions about the meeting began after the CIA in late January received information that North Korea wanted to meet with Pence. The Post also reported that only a few people — including President Donald Trump and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — decided to approve contact with North Korea.

The Blue House said it cannot officially confirm the Post’s account, but a core member of the ruling party told the JoongAng Ilbo that the government was aware of Kim Yo-jong’s decision to visit South Korea. The government tried to mediate between Washington and Pyongyang behind the scenes to arrange their meeting in the Blue House on Feb. 10.

The government decided to offer a room at the Blue House for the meeting after accepting requests from Washington and Pyongyang. A luncheon held by President Moon Jae-in for the North Korean delegation led by Kim took place at the Blue House that morning. If North Korea had not changed its mind abruptly, a Washington-Pyongyang meeting and inter-Korean meeting would have been held on the same day.

While taking a cautious approach Sunday to the idea of an inter-Korean summit, Moon said there is growing consensus between the United States and North Korea to have dialogue. His remarks suggest that a long-awaited meeting between Washington and Pyongyang was about to take place.

In his meeting with the press, Moon made clear that he was waiting for a U.S.-North contact leading to talks for denuclearization. Pence also was going to underscore denuclearization if he met with Kim, the Post said. Why North Korea canceled the meeting with the United States is not clear. But it might have thought that it needs more time.

Not much time is left for diplomacy on the sidelines of the Olympics. When Trump’s daughter Ivanka visits South Korea Friday to attend the closing ceremony of the Games on Sunday, North Korea could again send a high-level delegation, this time led by Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.

North Korea must send forward-looking signals this time. Repatriation of three Korean-Americans detained in North Korea could be a good start.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 34