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Persuade Pyongyang

Mar 13,2019
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, has made it official. In his first public comments since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi, Vietnam, last month, he told a Washington audience Monday that the U.S. administration wants Pyongyang to give up all of its weapons of mass destruction before anything else. Denying the possibility of the Trump administration pursuing a phased denuclearization of North Korea, Biegun emphatically said that North Korea must get rid of all its cycles of producing nuclear materials, nuclear weapons programs and biological and chemical weapons.

His remarks represent two changes. First, the U.S. government’s position on the issue has finally converged on one position: a complete denuclearization of North Korea. Second, his statements translate into a declaration that the ball is in Pyongyang’s court. North Korea will certainly be embarrassed by the remarks from the envoy.

On Tuesday, Uriminzokkiri, a state-controlled website that provides news from North Korea’s Central News Agency, stressed that Pyongyang has a firm position toward “a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The state mouthpiece added, “Supreme leaders of both countries will continue productive dialogue to achieve the goal of denuclearization and the development of our bilateral relations.”

Yet we cannot attach great significance to the cliché of the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization as it means a removal of all nuclear threats from countries around North Korea. Pyongyang even shows signs of preparing for a rocket launch in Tongchang-ri, which it promised to dismantle.

Under such volatile circumstances, the Moon Jae-in administration has fewer options available than before. It can hardly push forward once-coveted cards — such as proposing to Pyongyang the resumption of the operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to Mount Kumgang — in the name of accelerating denuclearization after consulting with Washington about how to exempt the joint economic projects from sanctions.

The only way for Seoul to help Washington and Pyongyang rekindle their dialogue while maintaining its alliance with the United States is persuading Kim Jong-un to make a bold decision. After Trump stormed out of the Hanoi summit, a waiting game will prevail between the two. It is time for Moon to take a prudent approach instead of doing anything to harm the alliance of seven decades.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 13, Page 30