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The stunt in Singapore

July 16,2018
More than a month has passed since the historic summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea. Despite all the hype and fanfare about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un paving the way toward a new future through speedy denuclearization, the actions that followed the summit have moved more or less at a snail’s pace.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from his third visit to Pyongyang last week empty-handed, which raised suspicions about Pyongyang’s sincerity in its pledge to denuclearize. Even without a timetable for the process of nuclear dismantlement, Seoul and Pyongyang are rushing to end the armistice and establish a peace regimen by the end of the year. Many are beginning to think Seoul and Washington are being played by Pyongyang in a buying-of-time scheme to ease sanctions and gain recognition as a nuclear arms state.

President Moon Jae-in shared some of his frustration. While visiting Singapore, which hosted the summit between Trump and Kim last month, Moon said the two leaders would face “grave judgment” from the world if they do not live up to their promises. He said the process could pick up speed if North Korea details a dismantlement plan and South Korea and the U.S. accelerate rewards. “But the path may not be easy,” he added.

Amid growing skepticism about his policy on North Korea, Trump disclosed a personal letter from Kim, boasting he had received “a very nice note” from Kim and that “great progress” is being made on denuclearization. Trump also said he was looking forward to their next meeting. The fact that Trump made a private letter public suggests the stalemate in the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. It underscores how desperate Trump has become to stop the skepticism in Washington about his political stunt in Singapore.

Pyongyang’s desire to end the armistice and sign a peace treaty with the United States even before denuclearization raises serious questions about its motives. The formal end of the truce may pave the way to a lasting peace, but at the same time accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South.

North Korea’s denuclearization will not be easy, as Moon said. But we cannot repeat the mistakes and failures of the past with the North Korean nuclear issue. This time, we may end up living with a nuclear-armed North Korea for good. Moon wants to take the steering wheel. If he really wants to show his skills behind the wheel, he must have the eye to find a new path to drive us out of the bottleneck.