First steps

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First steps

High-level talks between South and North Korea — the first since the launch of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration in May — take place today in the Peace House at the tense Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. The meeting is held to discuss ways for North Korea to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and for both sides to find ways to thaw frozen relations.

The big question is whether Seoul and Pyongyang can really find a breakthrough in a relationship fractured by the North’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. The inter-Korean meeting could be the last chance to stop North Korea’s ticking nuclear clock. As Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, head of the South Korean delegation, said Monday, the government plans to propose a reunion of separated families through the Korean Red Cross and also a military meeting to prevent an accidental clash on the border.

However, the way North Korea approaches the meeting seems to be quite different. Pyongyang’s propaganda machine has resorted to its signature campaign of putting an end to the large-scale joint drills between South Korea and the United States in order to “pave the way for the creation of a peaceful environment” in the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s mouthpieces also insisted that South Korea should not rely on “external forces,” underscoring the importance of a unified stance on security issues. The concerted voices of Pyongyang’s state-controlled media translate into an intention to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

The Moon administration must find out why North Korea used its Olympics card from the start. Pyongyang most likely adopted the peace offensive to break the international community’s joint front on sanctions and then buy more time to complete its nuclear armaments.

Our delegation must not forget Pyongyang’s sly calculations. As seen in China’s recent decision to stop its steel and machinery exports to North Korea, international society is reinforcing its pressure on the rogue state. It has just begun to work. Our representatives must not make the mistakes of loosening sanctions by being obsessed with the need to put inter-Korean ties back on track.

If the government really needs to ease sanctions, albeit temporarily, to induce North Korea to join the Games, it must closely consult with the United States and other countries to minimize the scope. We hope South and North Korea hold the meeting with strong determination that it must serve as the first steps toward achieving the denuclearization of North Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 30
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