Time for sophisticationAt his New Year’s press conference Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in emphatically said that only when the North Korean nuclear problem is solved can inter-Korean relations be improved. If North Korea does not have the will to address the issue, Seoul cannot but push for dialogue and sanctions at the same time. He underscored that South Korea will not walk away from the ultimate goal of the denuclearization of North Korea.
We welcome Moon’s balanced and realistic approach based on the firm principle of national security. Since taking office in May, Moon watched the Korean Peninsula teeter on the brink of war after North Korea’s uninterrupted provocations, including six nuclear tests and countless missile launches. Despite his repeated proposals for talks, Pyongyang simply dismissed them. Then North Korea took a surprise turn and attended high-level inter-Korean talks in Panmunjom. Pyongyang decided to send its largest-ever delegation to the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and agreed to hold a military meeting to avert an accidental clash along the border.
Moon must be tempted to accelerate the momentum for dialogue to achieve more tangible results starting with the high-level meeting. But first, he must demand that North Korea put into action a determination to scrap its nuclear weapons program. The press conference clearly showed he recognizes that a dialogue without discussing nuclear disarmaments only breaks our alliance with the United States and helps the recalcitrant regime buy more time to complete its nuclear development.
What the Moon administration needs now is delicate diplomacy that can back his recognition of reality. After our Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon urged North Korea to first denuclearize, his counterpart Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Reunification of the Fatherland, flatly refused to talk about it. North Korea still wants to confine the agenda to easing sanctions and economic aid. Our government must keep pressure on North Korea.
U.S. President Donald Trump also helped Moon take the driver’s seat on peninsular issues by agreeing to postpone Korea-U.S. joint drills and supporting Moon’s step toward dialogue. But if he fails to make progress and ends up giving more time to Pyongyang to finish its nuclear program, Uncle Sam’s attitude can change.
The Moon government must push a more sophisticated two-track policy of dialogue and sanctions.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 11, Page 30