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Denuclearization is key

Mar 31,2018
The date has been set for the inter-Korean summit talks at the southern section of the truce village of Panmunjom. On April 27, the heads of the two Koreas will sit across one another for the first time outside Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un will become the first North Korean ruler to cross the border after the peninsula was bisected. The last two summit meetings, in 2000 and 2007, were held in Pyongyang.

The upcoming summit is the beginning of a historical new chapter, leading to the first-ever meeting between North Korean and U.S. leaders and possible multilateral talks for a roadmap to permanent denuclearization and a peace arrangement.

Unlike former liberal presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun whose meetings with Kim Jong-il had been mostly ceremonial, President Moon Jae-in can specifically focus on denuclearization in his talks with Kim Jong-un. At the same time, Moon is under pressure to bring about substantial progress on the denuclearization front. Kim has already said that he is committed to denuclearization, but the means and path of achieving it can differ greatly.

In his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un talked about “incremental and simultaneous procedures” towards the goal of denuclearization. Pyongyang bought time and advanced its nuclear program by pocketing rewards from each phase of previous denuclearization agreements. Trump declared he would not repeat past mistakes and demands a full dismantlement before providing any rewards. Moon’s role would be drawing a middle ground between the polarized views of Pyongyang and Washington.

Pundits advise Moon to draw radical concessions from Pyongyang to persuade Washington to respond with equal eagerness in order for Seoul to stay in the driver’s seat on Korean affairs.

If Moon can talk Kim into disabling his nuclear and intercontinental missile facilities to some extent — a move beyond a freeze in its weapons program — he may be able to press for symbolic actions such as normalization of ties from Washington. Therefore, whatever Seoul can lay out for denuclearization will be the key to the summit talks.

Yang Jiechi, a Politburo member of China, briefed President Moon on the recent meeting between Xi and Kim in Beijing. We hope Moon sent a strong message to Beijing that sanctions and pressure must not ease up on Pyongyang until denuclearization is ensured. If sanctions fizzle out, a lasting solution to the North Korean nuclear problem may go down the drain.


JoongAng Ilbo, March 30, Page 38