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Bumpy road to peace treaty

Apr 19,2018
Surprising developments are taking place on the Korean Peninsula. CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. Pompeo is one of the closest aides to U.S. President Donald Trump and a nominee to become secretary of state. Such a political heavyweight’s trip to the reclusive state marks the first time since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang in 2000. The visit by Pompeo shows how much significance the Trump administration is attaching to an upcoming summit between Kim and Trump in May or June.

It is not clear what issues were discussed. However, considering remarks made by Pompeo in a Senate confirmation hearing shortly after his trip to Pyongyang, Uncle Sam seems to have confirmed the North Korean leader’s willingness to denuclearize. At the same time, Washington must have repeated its earlier position that without the North’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear weapons, sanctions will never be lifted.

With North Korea and the United States engaging in dialogue at such a stunning speed and high level, Seoul must closely communicate with Washington and Pyongyang on what it can do to ensure successful summits between President Moon Jae-in and Kim, and between Trump and Kim.

In such volatile moments, the Blue House has said it is considering the idea of transforming the seven-decade Korean War armistice into a peace treaty at the upcoming inter-Korean summit on April 27. Strictly speaking, however, the armistice agreement was struck among the U.S.-led United Nations Command on behalf of South Korea, and the North Korean and Chinese militaries. Therefore, that needs consent from Washington and Beijing.

On Tuesday, Trump welcomed the news. “They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” he said at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he was welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Given Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan to visit Pyongyang around June, Beijing is also not likely to oppose discussions on the cessation of hostilities. In other words, a declaration to end the war could be easier than we think.

But the road to a peace treaty is full of mines. It involves the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. If the Moon administration rushes to strike a deal with the North, it could shake the very foundations of our alliance. The government must wisely cope with the stunning developments.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 19, Page 30