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The grand bargain

May 29,2018
The United States and North Korea are speeding up preliminary talks for a historic summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In the northern section of Panmunjom, representatives of the two countries are discussing the agenda for the summit. Consultations on security and protocol for the meeting will also kick off. We are relieved to see the two archenemies resume talks to address the North Korean nuclear crisis after a roller coaster of events in the past few days. But it is too early to be sanguine.

After a blitzkrieg-like second summit with Kim Jong-un, President Moon Jae-in said, “Just as climbing the mountain gets harder when the sight of a summit is within view, the path toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and complete peace will not be an easy one.” His remarks suggest the many obstacles ahead. What attracts our attention is the ongoing practical-level discussion between Sung Kim, former U.S. envoy on North Korea policy, and Choe Son-hui, a North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs. The question is how to strike a balance between denuclearization and a guarantee of regime security.

There is a huge gap between the two sides’ positions. Washington’s position is clear. It wants complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of the North’s nuclear weapons in return for regime safety and economic aid. Pyongyang first wants Washington’s assurance of its regime’s security. As Moon said after the Saturday meeting with Kim, North Korea desires Uncle Sam to ease its security concerns first.

A tug of war will continue. Whether the summit will be held — and if it will be a successful one — rests on the results of the negotiation between Sung Kim and Choe.

But we can hardly dispel our own doubts about Pyongyang’s sincerity as suggested by remarks by its First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye-gwan and Choe Son-hui. They hinted at the possibility of a “nuclear arms reduction” instead of complete dismantlement. Such an approach is nothing but a cheat. If Pyongyang wants solid assurances of regime security, it must first agree to total denuclearization.

The United States also needs to present North Korea with detailed action plans to satisfy its need for regime safety. We hope the international community offers a complete, verifiable and irreversible guarantee of regime security in exchange for the North’s acceptance of CVID. That’s the swap that’s needed.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 29, Page 30