A meaningful meetingKim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, kicked off a three-day, two-night trip to South Korea from Sunday, including his attendance at the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Kim is known as the mastermind behind the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later that year. The Cheonan attack took the lives of 46 sailors and the Yeonpyeong bombardment took the lives of four South Koreans.
No South Koreans welcome such a person’s visit. His journey to South Korea was not smooth either. He had to take a military road after the Unification Bridge was blocked by protesters. The Moon Jae-in administration asked people to accept his visit in a broader and future-oriented context.
In that case, the government must help Kim meet with his American counterparts to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea. As it turned out, a meeting between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister — could not be held despite the administration’s hopes. The Blue House this time said it has no plan to mediate between the United States and North Korea. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders drew the line by saying that U.S. delegates have no plan to meet with North Koreans.
However, the U.S. and North Korean delegations include officials suggestive of possible contact between Washington and Pyongyang. The U.S. government hurriedly included Allison Hooker — a National Security Council member handling Korean Peninsula affairs — in the delegation, while North Korea added Choe Kang-il, deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, to the delegation. Security experts expect that a meeting could take place.
The Moon administration has been saying that the PyeongChang Olympics is a “Peace Olympics” as it desires to pave the way for the denuclearization of North Korea through its participation in the Games. The time to find a breakthrough in the deadlock is running out.
The Moon administration must persuade Kim Yong-chol to start dialogue with America on denuclearization. Otherwise, its wholehearted acceptance of his visit will surely be branded as a diplomatic defeat in dealing with Pyongyang’s peace charms. North Korea must show sincerity towards Washington after recognizing that its concept of maintaining peace with the U.S. even with nuclear weapons in its hands cannot be materialized.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 26, Page 30