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Trading troops for naught

June 16,2018
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came to Seoul to brief South Korean President Moon Jae-in and officials on the results of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on Tuesday. He sought to clarify the confusion and anxiety about the outcome.

While congratulating the United States on the successful meeting, Moon said, “There are mixed views on the outcome, but what is most important is the fact that the entire world, including the United States, Japan and China, have now become safe from threats of war, nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.”

But still, the Trump administration cannot avoid criticism for failing to bring North Korea to commit to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID), the bottom line that Washington was insisting on in its relationship with North Korea.

Moreover, Trump stoked concerns on the security front by saying that the United States may halt regular military exercises with South Korea while negotiating with North Korea in good faith. Some are also worried about Trump’s desire to remove U.S. troops from South Korea.

Pompeo eased some of these anxieties. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “understands the urgency of the timing of completing denuclearization,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington wants to see “major” nuclear dismantlement in the next two and half years. “You get complete denuclearization and only then will there be relief from sanctions,” he said, highlighting that Trump had been “incredibly clear” about the sequencing of denuclearization and relief of sanctions to ensure that the administration won’t make the same mistake of rewarding North Korea before any tangible progress in denuclearization.

South Korea and the United States must work together closely to ensure North Korea carries out dismantlement over the next two and half years. Seoul must stand tough on sanctions in line with the U.S. stance that the UN Security Council sanctions must not ease unless the world is certain of North Korea’s denuclearization.

The two governments must not forget that, if they get it wrong this time, distrust in Washington and Pyongyang will augment, and the argument for South Korea going nuclear may gain ground.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 15, Page 30