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Moon clears his calendar to concentrate on summits

May 16,2018
With a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump rapidly approaching, President Moon Jae-in is minimizing his official activity this week to prepare for the White House meeting and concentrate on how to bring Washington and Pyongyang closer to cutting a deal in Singapore on June 12.

Moon had no official activity Tuesday after he canceled an earlier plan to issue a statement to commemorate Teachers’ Day.

On Monday, his only official activity was to preside over a senior secretariat meeting at the Blue House, during which he declared the North’s decision to shut down its nuclear testing site, where all six underground nuclear tests were conducted, the “starting point of the North’s complete denuclearization.”

Moon also decided to send Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on his behalf to attend the 38th anniversary commemoration of the Gwangju Democratic Movement, a surprise considering the political significance the event has for Moon and his supporters.

In a sign of his commitment to honoring the sacrifices of the victims of the Gwangju uprising in May 1980, when people took up arms against the authoritarian Chun Doo Hwan government, Moon attended the commemoration last year and embraced the sobbing daughter of a victim killed during the massacre.

Pictures of Moon and the sobbing daughter featured on the front page of many dailies.

Moon’s schedule this week illustrates the work needed to make the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit successful.

Moon is determined to serve as a mediator to narrow down differences in the positions of Pyongyang and Washington, sworn adversaries that appeared to be on the brink of war just a few months ago,

The Blue House has repeatedly stressed that whether the North’s denuclearization will succeed hinges on the outcome of the Trump-Kim Jong-un summit meeting and that the inter-Korean summit held last month was a “guide” to the more important June 12 meeting.

A senior presidential official who asked not to be named said joint South-North declarations from the two previous inter-Korean summits, held in 2000 and 2007, were not put into action because the two summits were not accompanied by a North-U.S. summit, an acknowledgment of the outsized influence Washington wields in inter-Korean relations.

At the June 12 summit, a key point of contention between North Korean leader Kim and Trump is expected to center on the scope and timing of the North’s denuclearization and how Washington is willing to reward Pyongyang for ridding itself of nuclear arsenal.

Pyongyang has signaled that it wants action-for-action progress in which it receives compensation for each denuclearization move while Washington is calling for the Libya denuclearization model in which the North completes its denuclearization first in order to get sanctions relief and economic aid.

Moon must somehow narrow the differences in these two positions.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]