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What is the Assembly doing?

June 07,2018
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Bae Myung-bok
*The author is a senior columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.

In less than a week, the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore will be held. It will be a historic meeting where the leaders of two countries that have maintained a hostile relationship for nearly 70 years attempt to make a “big deal” happen. The key is the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Whether to end the hostile relationship and open the door to a new relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and cooperation by exchanging “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID)” with “complete, verifiable and irreversible guarantee (CVIG)” for Kim Jong-un’s regime depends on that meeting.

But the concept of Kim’s complete denuclearization is still unsure, and North Korea is still suspicious over Washington’s guarantee of the regime. As a result, discrepancies in the roadmap, methods of denuclearization and its guarantee continue as the summit approaches. It is fortunate that U.S. President Donald Trump has realized that the issue cannot be resolved in a short period of time.

After a 90-minute meeting with Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol of the Central Committee of North Korea’s Workers’ Party at the White House on June 1, Trump repeatedly stressed that the Singapore summit would be the beginning of a process. He acknowledged that one meeting with Kim could not resolve all issues at once. He said that he would not sign a deal at the Singapore summit and that there will be second and third meetings, effectively lowering people’s expectations for a showdown on June 12. The Singapore summit is likely to be a chance to confirm the two leaders’ plan for denuclearization, regime guarantee and normalization and to produce a joint statement. A specific roadmap and implementation methods will be discussed in follow-up working-level meetings.

President Trump said that ending the war would be discussed in Singapore, but it is uncertain if the leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the United States would sign the declaration of the end of war. In any case, ending the Korean War is meaningful as it would end the hostile relationship between North Korea and the United States and would signal a new beginning. Replacing the truce with a peace agreement needs to be in pace with the progress of denuclearization, but a declaration of ending the technical state of war between South and North Korea is significant politically. By preparing a foundation for normalization, it can encourage North Korea’s denuclearization.

A reliable U.S. source who asked to remain anonymous said that the Trump administration was already counting the votes. For the ratification process by the U.S. Congress on the agreements between Washington and Pyongyang, individual senators are sounded out. As the Trump administration had scrapped the Iran nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration, North Korea is demanding that the agreements be ratified in a legally binding treaty. A treaty requires support from more than 67 senators, two thirds of the Senate. It is understood that many Democrats support the deal and getting more than 67 votes won’t be an issue.

The joint statement in Singapore is said to include the exchange and installment of permanent representatives, instead of a contact office which is usually the first step in diplomatic relations. Instead, the United States demands North Korea take out and dismantle intercontinental ballistic missiles and some nuclear warheads within several months. If a big deal is made in Singapore, the U.S.-North relationship will develop rapidly.

The Korean Peninsula is faced with a historic opportunity. Two inter-Korean summits at Panmunjom showed that it is not an impossible dream to bring other powers to our side when South and North Korea work together. In the late Joseon period (1392-1910), Korea was not aware of international circumstances, was swayed by foreign powers and ended up with a tragic fate. Now we are given a chance to write a new history for the peninsula. It is up to us whether to seize the chance or not.

At this juncture, what is the National Assembly doing? The National Assembly must act. Rather than watching the government’s efforts idly, the National Assembly needs to show bipartisan will and wisdom. The government should explain the situation in detail and ask for support and cooperation. They must end the consuming history of confrontation and discord and leave a future of peace and prosperity for the next generation. If we miss this golden opportunity, politicians blinded by party interests must pay a considerable part of the price.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 5, Page 31