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Seoul must be in the loop

June 04,2018
The United States and North Korea have “talked about almost everything” President Donald Trump said after a tete-a-tete with Kim Yong-chol, the second most powerful man in Pyongyang, to fine-tune the agenda ahead of a June 12 historic summit.

Replacement of the armistice with a peace treaty, aid to North Korea, and the future of U.S. troops in South Korea are some of the issues that are said to be discussed, together with a denuclearization scheme. The issues must be addressed in the process of denuclearizing North Korea and making it a normal member of the international community. But they must not be accepted by the Trump administration without close consultation with Seoul.

On giving aid to North Korea, Trump made it clear that the economic rewards for denuclearization should come from South Korea and also from neighboring China and Japan, claiming the United States was a country 6,000 miles away while the three are close neighbors.

Based on the lessons from the union of East and West Germany, modernization and development of North Korea over the next decade would cost an estimated 2,167 trillion won ($2 trillion).

South Korea, with an annual budget of 429 trillion won, can hardly shoulder the colossal cost alone. Aid from international lenders, as well as China, Japan, the United States and European Union, is essential. If Washington shies away from sharing the financial burden, no other country will be willing to chip in.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment on the American troops in South Korea after a peace treaty is established, saying the issue is not a topic to be shared with the public at the current stage. His comment suggests the discussions, however, are underway.

Washington has so far maintained that what it does with its troops in South Korea is an issue to be discussed solely with Seoul. We must not allow such an important decision to be made between Washington and Pyongyang. Seoul must take care and get deeply involved so that our interests are not neglected in the ongoing deal-making between Washington and Pyongyang.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 4, Page 30