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Stop speeding inter-Korean talks

Sept 18,2018
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Park Sung Soo
The author, a former diplomat at the Korean Embassy in the United Kingdom, is a former visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.

A joint liaison office of South and North Korea was opened on Friday in Kaesong and President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are holding a third inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang from Sept. 18 through Sept. 20. While the talks between Seoul and Pyongyang gather speed, the denuclearization dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang is in a stalemate.

The discrepancy in the speed between the two talks derives from the differences between Seoul and Washington in the recognition of the measures North Korea has taken for denuclearization. President Moon Jae-in sympathizes with North Korea’s claim that there is nothing the U.S. has done except suspending a military drill while the North has taken many irreversible denuclearization measures. President Moon asserts that inter-Korean relations must pick up speed so that it can lead the development of the U.S.-North relations.

However, the U.S. and the international community feel differently. They worry that Moon’s speeding to get close to the North would break the network of international cooperation for UN sanctions against the North. If international cooperation for sanctions breaks down, the Maximum Pressure tactics — the only non-military means to achieve the North’s denuclearization — will be jeopardized.

Most serious of all, if South Korea speeds up its access to the North sympathizing with the North’s position, the risk of weakening the South-U.S. alliance and entangling South Korea in the North’s People’s Liberation Front strategy will loom large. When the South Korea-U.S. alliance falls apart, the process of communizing the whole Korean Peninsula under nuclear-armed North Korea will start with the approval of communist China.

It is necessary, therefore, to moderate the speed of South-North détente. It is the U.S. that can prevent President Moon from running ahead of others. North Korea experts, including those in the State Department and former top State Department officials, say Pyongyang has yet to take fundamental denuclearization steps. National Security Adviser John Bolton said the U.S. was still waiting for North Korea to take denuclearization steps. Critics of Trump say that the Singapore summit ended without concrete agreements, and that negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are slow and making no progress.

However, President Trump reacts differently to Kim Jung-un. When he received the fourth letter from Kim, who was apparently shocked by the sudden suspension of Secretary Pompeo’s scheduled trip to Pyongyang, he praised it as a “warm letter” and “very positive.” Due to such an impromptu manner of handling business, Trump was ridiculed as a fifth-grader by his close aides.

Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong-un began with mutually disparaging remarks such as “little rocket man” and “dotard.” But with the Singapore meeting, Trump began to positively evaluate Kim as “talented” and “very nice.” Since then, they have been exchanging words of mutual trust and respect.

Trump and Kim Jong-un are a good match. What the two have in common is they are as spontaneous and intuitive as fifth-grade students. The issue of denuclearization of North Korea — on which depends the fate of the Korean Peninsula and world peace — is up to these two fifth-graders! Here, President Moon Jae-in appeared on the scene to play the role of, at first, a driver, and then, a middleman. Now, he is asked by President Trump to play the role of a chief negotiator.

In order not to spoil the mood of the talks, President Moon has so far avoided mentioning North Korea’s nuclear weapons at the inter-Korean summit. But he is expected to address the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, nuclear facilities and nuclear programs at Tuesday’s summit. In order to draw an agreement for the declaration of the end of the Korean War from the U.S. — as is demanded by the North — negotiations on reporting and verifying nuclear weapons currently in North Korea’s possession should be made. The success of the negotiations depends on whether President Moon can elicit a positive response from Kim Jong-un by promoting his impromptu and intuitive judgment.

There will be many ups-and-downs before North Korea accomplishes ‘complete denuclearization.’ At this stage, it is not even clear what North Korea calls ‘complete denuclearization’ is. At the general meeting of the Workers’ Party Central Committee in 2013, North Korea officially declared the adoption of so-called “Parallel Development of Nuclear Power and Economy Policy.” And North Korea declared itself a nuclear power in the Constitution. To achieve “complete denuclearization,” these measures and related legal provisions should be nullified.

So, Kim Jong-un declared on April 21, ahead of the inter-Korean summit on April 27, “a shift in the ‘Parallel Development of Nuclear Power and Economy Policy.’” In other words, he gave up the policy of developing nuclear power and economy in parallel. Kim Jong-un proclaimed, “We have already completed the development of nuclear power. There is no need to experiment nuclear weapons anymore. Therefore, the nuclear test site and the missile engine test site are closed. Instead, we will concentrate all our capabilities on developing the economy. I feel frustrated because the Western world suspects my will to denuclearize, despite all these efforts.”

The current inter-Korean summit is an opportunity for Kim Jong-un to demonstrate his firm will to denuclearize the North to the whole world. He should faithfully report all nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, nuclear facilities and programs in possession, and show “complete denuclearization” in action by agreeing to declare, freeze, disable, verify and dispose of them.

After completing dismantlement of all nuclear programs, if North Korea wants to become a model country of the international community, it should give up its hostile policy toward the South. For the past 70 years, North Korea has pursued a policy of unifying the whole Korean Peninsula under communism. The nuclear development program was also pushed as part of the policy. North Korea’s ‘complete denuclearization’ will be accomplished in full when it gives up the policy of unifying the South under communist rule.