A two-way streetWe are happy to hear the two Koreas are working to mend their relationship using the momentum of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a New Year’s address indicated a willingness to send North Korean athletes to the winter sports event to be held in the South.
Seoul responded by proposing high-level talks for next week. The two sides reopened a communications channel in Panmunjom for the first time in 23 months. South Korean President Moon Jae-in called his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump and get his agreement to put off joint military drills during the Olympics period. Pyongyang, on the following day, agreed to hold high-level talks next Tuesday. So far, things are going well and raising hopes of a Korean Spring following a period of frozen relations.
In his telephone conversation with Trump, Moon said the strong U.S. position has helped build momentum for inter-Korean dialogue. Trump in response said his administration backs President Moon 100 percent. There had been concerns that Seoul may irk Washington by jumping at the first overture from Pyongyang. But Moon assured Trump that Seoul will closely consult with Washington in all the procedures and dialogue with Pyongyang. He added that inter-Korean dialogue will help to build up a mood for talks between Washington and Pyongyang to solve the nuclear conundrum. A demonstration of a resolute alliance between Seoul and Washington will keep Pyongyang’s tricks at bay and augment our negotiating power.
There are many issues Moon’s government must address in its first high-level talks with Pyongyang. The two sides must decide whether they will have one Korean team parade in the opening and closing ceremonies and whether financial support for the North Korean team violates current sanctions. The meeting should not just address the upcoming Olympics, but set the stage for a reconciliatory and dialogue mood. North Korea also agreed that it was willing to address the overall inter-Korean relationship.
The first high-level inter-Korean meeting in two years must be used to create a momentum for solving the North Korean nuclear problem. The two sides must restore mutual trust first. South Korea has made the first move of putting off joint military drills. North Korea, too, should offer to freeze its nuclear program and stop further provocations with its weapons. We must not make the mistake of making promises and accepting North Korea’s demands in order to bring North Koreans to the games.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 26