A long way to go

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A long way to go

On Monday night, before his historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stepped out of his hotel, hopped into his Mercedes-Benz with no license plate and headed straight for the Marina Bay Sands. No one knew what he was thinking when he arrived at the top of the 57-floor luxury hotel. The leader was reticent ever since arriving in Singapore the day before. But sometimes, actions speak louder than words.

In early December, Kim climbed Mount Paektu to see Lake Chonji despite its infamously cold environs. Afterward, he delivered a New Year’s address heralding a cataclysmic change in North Korea’s foreign policy and sent athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea. The leader looked similarly determined after his short night tour around glitzy Singapore.

The following morning, Trump and Kim met face to face at last. Their 12-second handshake at the Capella Hotel seemed to put an end to their rancorous taunting and war of words. After a one-and-one meeting in the morning and an extended one followed by a luncheon, the two leaders signed an agreement with the American and North Korean flags hanging in the back. Trump described it as a “very comprehensive document” that would “take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world.” Responding to his expression of satisfaction, Kim said the world would see a “great change” soon.

However, the joint statement also showed how bumpy the road to denuclearization will be. Many security experts based the summit’s success on three conditions. Will the phrase “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” be part of the agreement? Will the agreement set a timetable for denuclearization? And will the North take pre-emptive action by dismantling and shipping its nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to the United States?

The fundamental questions can only be answered by Kim’s determination. If he makes a bold decision on even one of the three issues, it will help speed up the process of declaring an end to the Korean War — which is technically still ongoing — and guaranteeing regime security for North Korea.

The entire world expected the two leaders to strike a “deal of the century” at the summit, but the agreement fell short of expectations. The two leaders agreed on four issues in line with the Panmunjom Declaration signed between President Moon Jae-in and Kim during their summit in April. On the pivotal issue of denuclearization, Article 3 of the agreement in Singapore stipulated that “North Korea commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The remaining three articles involve a vow to “establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity” (Article 1); a pledge to “build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula (Article 2); and a commitment to “recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.” (Article 4). As the core of issue of denuclearization was placed in the third, however, the agreement could not go beyond the goal of “complete denuclearization” stipulated in the Panmunjom Declaration and remains an abstract goal.

Over the last 24 years, there have been three nuclear crises on the peninsula. The first involves the Clinton administration’s consideration of a raid on the Yongbyon nuclear facility in 1994 after North Korea left the nonproliferation treaty a year earlier. The crisis led to the Agreed Framework in Geneva in October that year, which offered compensation for a nuclear freeze.

The second crisis came in 2002 after North Korea admitted to its development of highly-enriched uranium. That sent the Agreed Framework in Geneva to the dustbin and led to the 2005 Joint Statement, a historic agreement which also became null and void after Pyongyang broke it.

North Korea’s successful nuclear tests and missile development last year marked the crest of the third nuclear crisis, but the latest agreement even stopped short of the 2005 statement.

Nevertheless, it is too early to conclude that the summit failed. The meeting between the two heads of state itself is a monumental step to ending their deep-rooted hostilities since the Korean War. Trump said North Korea also promised to scrap its missile engine test facilities, though that was not included in the agreement.

On ensuring the North’s regime security, Trump said there will soon be a declaration to end the war. With U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong-chol agreeing to hold a follow-up meeting at the earliest date, we hope they will draw a successful roadmap for total denuclearization.

But what worries us is Trump’s remarks that he will consider ending joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea even though he said he did not deal with the issue at the summit. Given strong repercussions from his statement, our government must strongly respond to it.

Even though the Singapore summit has hardly met our expectations, a door to denuclearization has opened. We have a long way to go. We urge Kim to make the determination for a better future. As he said in the summit, he must put into action his promises to Trump. We believe he will not return to a past full of uncertainties.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 13, Page 26
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