Don’t rush to the declarationAt the Asean Regional Forum in Singapore, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha reiterated the Moon Jae-in administration’s intention to push for an end to the 1950-53 Korean War. During a press conference on Sunday, she said South Korea had a “considerable amount of consultations” with the United States and China on the issue with the goal of declaring the end of the war within this year. The minister added that South Korea will also take advantage of other important occasions, including the United Nations General Assembly meeting in late September, to achieve the goal.
The United States already made its position clear. In his first press conference on Thursday since taking office as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, warned against the danger of rushing to declare an end to the war. He underscored that if involved parties rush, it will only benefit North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — particularly if the denuclearization talks fail.
Amb. Harris highlighted that a precondition for the declaration is the North’s concrete actions to abandon its nuclear weapons program. If Pyongyang presents a complete list of its nuclear weapons and facilities, it will be a starting point for the declaration, he emphasized.
His remarks are fully in line with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s warning over the weekend that international sanctions should be maintained until North Korea’s denuclearization is completed. He said he was optimistic about the possibility of Kim Jong-un submitting a timetable for denuclearization as he promised in his June 12 summit with President Donald Trump.
North Korea opposed Pompeo’s firm stance on the declaration. Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho defined the declaration as “one of the most rudimentary steps toward ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula” and accentuated the need for Washington and Pyongyang to take “simultaneous and phased steps.” North Korea will never take unilateral actions, he said, arguing that it is time to kick off negotiations to declare the end of the war since Pyongyang returned the remains of the fallen U.S soldiers from the Korean War.
Seoul’s position is important. If some sort of a timetable for denuclearization is really contained in Kim’s recent letter to Trump, it could signal the time has come to embark on negotiations for the declaration. But if not, South Korea should be very careful. Seoul must not join with Pyongyang and Beijing to put pressure on Washington to rush to the declaration. Instead, the government must demand North Korea take concrete steps toward denuclearization.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 6, Page 30