+ A

Hawks versus doves

May 24,2018
Hopes for the denuclearization of North Korea have receded. After Pyongyang criticized the South Korea-U.S. joint air force drills and U.S. President Donald Trump hinted at the possibility of canceling his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the prospects for such a historic meeting are getting slimmer.

Trump’s hard-line remarks came shortly before his fourth summit Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House. As if to calm Moon’s elation over the dramatic turns on the Korean Peninsula, Trump said he might not have a summit with Kim unless certain conditions are met. After his boss’s provocative remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hurriedly came to the briefing room to convince correspondents of his own hopes for a “successful summit.” On his flight to Washington for the summit, South Korea’s National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong also said he was 99.9 percent sure the summit would happen.

Trump’s message was clear: he will not meet Kim if North Korea does not accept complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear weapons. His remarks remind us of his telephone conversation with Moon a few days earlier, in which he asked Moon why Kim suddenly returned to a hard-line position. Despite Seoul’s efforts to broker a U.S.-North summit, Trump could not lose all his suspicions about North Korea.

Fortunately, North Korea shows signs of coming around. Pyongyang allowed South Korean reporters to cover its dismantling of a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong. High-level inter-Korean talks also will likely be held.

The Trump-Kim summit slated for June 12 will most likely be held as Kim himself proposed it. But given the North’s notorious past, it could make preposterous demands in the denuclearization talks. The Moon administration must deal with North Korea resolutely. Otherwise, it could make Uncle Sam believe that Seoul is trying to represent Pyongyang’s positions. The government must communicate with Washington accurately and candidly.

In his fourth summit in the Oval Office, Moon underscored that we cannot make progress in history if we blindly stick to pessimism. He is right. At the same time, he must prepare thoroughly and wisely if he wants to see his dream come true.

Temporary turbulence between Washington and Pyongyang stems from deepening conflict between hawks and doves on both sides. Our government must cope with such changes in order not to miss a great opportunity.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30