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A need to mediate

May 09,2018
The United States has raised the bar in its push for the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. In his inaugural address as the new secretary of state last week, former CIA director Mike Pompeo said, “This administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our eyes are wide open. It’s time to solve this one and for all.” He also said, “We are committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling (PVID) of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction program and to do so without delay.”
The new word — “permanent” — took the place of “complete” in the previous “complete, verifiable, irreversible” dismantlement (CVID) of the North’s nuclear arms.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry tried to tone down the significance in the wording change, saying the meaning is more or less the same. But action plans under the new slogan can be entirely different. The CVID concept can be achieved if North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons. But a permanent program could be stretched to entire capabilities of North Korea in developing and producing nuclear weapons. Over 200 scientists and 2,000 engineers should be closely monitored. We would be more relieved from threats if that happens.

The so-called PVID program, however, could irk North Korea, who will likely consider it excessive and will ruin the hard-won momentum to denuclearize the country. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a warning on Sunday against mistaking “our commitment on peace as weakness” and continuing with pressure and military threats. Tokyo has also demanded that Pyongyang dismantle not just nuclear weapons but also biological weapons.

Seoul must cleverly mediate to build pressure without provoking Pyongyang. It is understandable that Seoul opposes mentioning PVID or CVID in the joint statement to be released after a summit with leaders of China and Japan on Wednesday.

As foreign media and experts point out, we cannot be sure about Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization. Washington’s dilly-dallying in setting the date and location for Trump’s summit with Kim jong-un also suggests difficulties in the behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Seoul must employ its best diplomacy to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington so that the momentum is not wasted. We expect President Moon Jae-in to show off his real skills when he meets with Trump on May 22.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 8, Page 30