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It’s Kim’s move

July 02,2018
Nearly three weeks have passed since the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In a meaningful step toward the goal of denuclearization, North Korea blew up a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri and agreed to repatriate the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. But on denuclearization, Pyongyang is dragging its feet.

In his third trip to Beijing on June 20, Kim reportedly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to lift UN-imposed sanctions as early as possible. Kim also demanded that Xi take such steps in accordance with progress in denuclearization. It is regrettable that Kim still adheres to such a far-fetched stance. South Korea and the United States demonstrated sincerity by suspending their joint military drills after his summit with Trump. The ball is now in North Korea’s court. It has lots of work to do, including shipping its nuclear weapons and missiles to the United States and starting discussions on how to inspect nuclear facilities in the country. But Pyongyang is keeping mum.

In an alarming move, our military decided to suspend construction of new barracks within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the military demarcation line. The Ministry of National Defense says it took the step after considering the possibility of pulling back our troops from the front lines to follow up on the Panmunjom Declaration signed by President Moon Jae-in and Kim in April. The ministry says the suspension is aimed at minimizing the cost of dismantling the barracks after military tensions subside. But we are deeply concerned about potential security risks since North Korea has yet to take corresponding actions.

We must take the opportunity to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula, but South Korea and the United States need to take a step back to correspond to North Korea’s steps toward denuclearization. It would be very impatient if Seoul and Washington eased up on sanctions when Pyongyang is not fully ready to denuclearize. Our government must remind North Korea that only complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization is the key to lifting sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must also face up to reality. After declaring complete denuclearization in his summits with Moon and Trump, he was able to achieve a remarkable result: suspension of South Korea and the United States’ joint military exercises. Now it is his turn. If he takes the reciprocal step of denuclearization, the international community will lift sanctions accordingly.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 2, Page 30