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Back to the basics

Mar 05,2019
After the sudden breakdown of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, denuclearization has once again entered uncertain territory. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un returned home empty-handed, his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, is forced to put his ambitious initiative to establish a new peace regime on the Korean Peninsula on hold. Still, he is only concerned about a potential collapse of rapprochement with North Korea. It is time to find out how to establish peace on the peninsula without any nuclear threats from the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang.

The unexpected break-off of the Hanoi summit is the result of sharp gap in understanding between Washington and Pyongyang on denuclearization — specifically, because of Kim’s misinterpretation of the concept. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said President Trump had given Kim two documents — one in English and the other in Korean — that promised U.S. support of the North’s economic development if it submitted a list of nuclear missiles and materials, as well as biological and chemical weapons, and dismantled them all.

But Kim refused the offer as he wanted sanctions to be substantially lifted in return for the scrapping of an old reactor and some of the uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing facilities in the Yongbyon nuclear compound. That fell way short of Washington’s expectations for denuclearization.

It seems the Moon administration was not aware of the critical gap at all. President Moon went on accentuating the need to create a new peninsula system for a successful transition to the era of peace and prosperity. The surprising mismatch shows a critical lack of communication between Seoul and Washington. Nevertheless, pro-Moon factions are making one ludicrous remark after the next. Some in the ruling Democratic Party have even proposed another inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom.

Fortunately, Moon held a National Security Council meeting to cope with the repercussions of the Hanoi summit. Yet the administration’s eyes are only fixed on the Yongbyon nuclear facilities. That is wrong. If he really wants to learn lessons from the botched summit, he must seriously reflect on what should be done for denuclearization. The government has been overly buoyed by the festive mood after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last year. The time has come to get back to basics because what matters most is our national security. Prosperity of the Korean Peninsula comes next.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 5, Page 30