A ‘super week’ lies ahead

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A ‘super week’ lies ahead

North Korea has presented us the names of the members of its delegation for an inter-Korean meeting to discuss its participation in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics and other urgent issues. The delegation led by the head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland will have their first meeting on Tuesday after an over two-year hiatus due to the North’s nuclear provocations. Along with other major diplomatic events, this week could be called a “super week.”

On Monday — a day before the meeting at Panmunjom — H.E. Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority, visits Seoul. He participated in the Dec. 10 meeting between President Moon Jae-in’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. His Seoul stop could offer a clue to Im’s suspicious visit to the United Arab Emirates last month.

On Tuesday or Wednesday, our Foreign Ministry will likely announce its official position on the controversial deal between the Park Geun-hye administration and the Shinzo Abe government to close the chapter on the thorny sex slave issue. If not the Foreign Ministry, President Moon will clarify his position on the agreement between Seoul and Tokyo in his New Year’s address on Wednesday.

This week could offer a watershed moment for our security and diplomacy. Pyongyang’s expression of the will to join the Olympics appears to be a step forward. But a fundamental question about North Korea’s denuclearization could grow bigger if both sides fail to take advantage of the North’s Olympic participation to help it move toward nuclear disarmament.

In a surprising turn, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his “100 percent support” for President Moon in a phone conversation last week. But Trump also underscored the need for the international community to not repeat the past mistakes of allowing North Korea to buy more time to develop nuclear weapons. Depending on the progress of the inter-Korean talks, it could fuel our internal ideological conflict or deepen the schisms between Seoul and Washington.

Im’s suspicious trip to the UAE is fodder for internal friction. The deal over “comfort women” also will likely stoke domestic or international friction no matter what President Moon says. We hope he delivers messages aimed at minimizing domestic conflict in his New Year’s address. Otherwise, he can hardly move forward in the face of a plethora of challenges at home and abroad.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 8, page 30

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