Complete denuclearization is key

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Complete denuclearization is key

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues his charm offensive. The installation on Friday of a hotline between South and North Korean leaders and the telephone conversation between officials of the two countries that followed helped pave the way for immediate talks between President Moon Jae-in and Kim should an emergency take place.

The developments are surely a positive step toward averting — and managing — a potential military clash on the demilitarized zone or near the Northern Limit Line on the West Sea. But more important is the North’s willingness to keep the hotline alive no matter what. Despite the establishment of a communication channel between the South’s National Intelligence Service and the North’s United Front Department in 2000, Pyongyang cut it shortly after inter-Korean relations deteriorated.

Kim also vowed to suspend nuclear tests and ICBM launches as well as shut down a major nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong. We welcome his promise to close down the site, which was used to conduct six nuke tests. But Pyongyang called Kim’s declaration “completion of weaponization of nuclear weapons” and “an important step toward global nuclear weapons reduction.” In other words, Kim is saying that North Korea will have nuclear arms reduction talks with U.S. President Donald Trump as a nuclear power.

Moreover, scrapping the site was unavoidable due to frequent collapses of the aged tunnels. Kim’s declaration to shut down the facility, albeit useless, is likely aimed at taking initiative before his upcoming summits with Moon and Trump by demonstrating a willingness to dismantle nuclear weapons.

In a meeting with presidents of local media outlets, President Moon said it is too early to expect success from his dialogue with Kim, suggesting he is well aware of the North’s betrayal after the two summits in 2000 and 2007.

North Korea did not mention denuclearization at all in a latest conference of the Workers’ Party. Kim will most likely suspend future nuke tests and missile launches while maintaining a score of nuclear weapons it has produced so that he can use it as a bargaining chip in the summit. Moon must not forget that North Korea accelerated nuclear armaments even after professing to scrap nuclear weapons by demolishing a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Moon must pressure Kim to accept Trump’s call for a complete dismantlement of nuclear weapons and pledge to do it within a year. Without clearly fixing the terms, his summit will go nowhere.
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