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The rush to a summit

Aug 15,2018
The United States’ concerns are deepening after the two Koreas agreed to hold a third summit in Pyongyang in September. The Department of State on Monday stressed that improving inter-Korean relations cannot proceed without the denuclearization of North Korea. U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris joined the bandwagon by underscoring the need to pursue the two goals simultaneously. “The U.S. government will watch the ongoing high-level talks at Panmunjom,” he said. Such words as “welcome” were not used in the messages from Washington.

Instead, the United States reminded South Korea of what President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year’s address. Moon said that inter-Korean relations and nuclear issues cannot be separated, adding that his administration will continue following sanctions on North Korea if it does not show sincerity. The U.S. statement translates into a warning against a rush to a summit.

The Blue House wants to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War to “find a breakthrough in the impasse.” But such a rush only deepens Washington’s suspicions about its ally and its determination to achieve denuclearization. South Korea’s lackadaisical attitude towards North Korean coal being smuggled into South Korea and its repeated requests for exempting inter-Korean exchanges from international sanctions only exacerbate Washington’s concerns.

Harris tersely said it seems too early to declare an end to the war. The former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet knows potential insecurity in Northeast Asia after China’s rise better than anyone. Does it really make sense to rush to a declaration even when North Korea has yet to present a timetable for denuclearization?

The New York Times reported that South Korea is quietly aiding North Korea by rushing to an end-of-war declaration because if Trump declares a “peace declaration” with North Korea, the United States cannot threaten it with military action. The Washington Post said that U.S. officials are embarrassed at the overly speedy inter-Korean reconciliation. In such circumstances, Moon’s trip to Pyongyang will only help promote the legitimacy of the North Korean regime.

When North Korea started dialogue with South Korea, many security experts worried about potential schisms in the alliance. We hope Moon keeps the promise he made in his New Year’s speech.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 15, Page 26