East Asia Peace Forum calls for a swift deal

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East Asia Peace Forum calls for a swift deal


Former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, center, speaks during a news conference to issue a joint statement from the East Asia Peace Forum at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul on Tuesday, one day before Liberation Day. The statement, issued by 72 prominent South Koreans from various sectors, presses for a swift agreement that would end the peninsula’s formal state of war in exchange for the North reporting its nuclear stockpile. [YONHAP]

Members of East Asia Peace Forum, including former prime ministers and lawmakers, on Tuesday called to expedite a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War in exchange for North Korea declaring its nuclear materials and facilities.

Their statement, issued a day before both Koreas celebrate the peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, comes amid a stalemate in negotiations between the United States and North Korea on denuclearization.

This five-point statement - signed by 72 prominent South Koreans including three former prime ministers, two former National Assembly speakers and ex-cabinet officials - calls on the North and United States to “make fair, mutual exchanges for a joint declaration to end the Korean War.”

Although combat ended in 1953, a state of war technically remains in place on the Korean Peninsula because the conflict concluded with an armistice agreement rather than a peace treaty.

The statement acknowledged the summits between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un - and the landmark meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump - as events that “changed the course of history” but also noted the hurdles in realizing denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“In the past several months following the inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom and North-U.S. summit in Singapore, there has been a surge in optimism about a greater likelihood for the settlement of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Lee Hong-koo, a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo, said in a news conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul to announce the statement on Tuesday.

He noted the Korean Peninsula’s complicated history as it seeks to overcome the heavy burden of its Cold War legacy and the “frustration” of stalled denuclearization talks. “While the solution to the problem may not be simple, I hope this [statement] may revitalize the efforts of the people toward the establishment of peace and unification,” Lee said.

Wednesday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the March 1 independence movement and establishment of the Korean provisional government in Shanghai.

The East Asia Forum began in 2015, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation, as an informal gathering of leaders in politics, religion, academia, culture, finance and civic activism, who shared a vision of unification and establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

The statement called on key players to agree on a “substantive and concrete procedure and timeline” to realize denuclearization and peace “through face-to-face talks at an early date.”

A declaration to end the war in exchange for the North reporting its nuclear stockpile and facilities “is a starting point for a freeze of its nuclear activities and irreversible denuclearization” and a means to “advance to the concrete and realizable phase in a denuclearization and peace deal,” according to the statement. It would further convey a “substantive willingness to realize the security guarantees and denuclearization promised between the United States and the North.”

Such a declaration, which would irreversibly end a formal state of war on the peninsula, should “involve all the key participants of the Korean War: South Korea, North Korea, the United States and China,” the statement read.

After North Korea declares its nuclear materials and facilities, there needs to be a “simultaneous and phase-by-phase” lifting of sanctions, provision of economic support for the North, signing of a peace treaty, and formalization of the North’s diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan during the inspection and dismantlement stage, the statement read. It also underscored that the South Korean government is an “irreplaceable key player in the process.”

“The 72 members who signed this statement do not necessarily have all the same opinion, and within the group, there are both liberals and conservatives,” said Lee Sang-yeol, chairman of the Korea Dialogue Academy, “but the fact that leaders of various sectors can join together and compromise is meaningful.

“Even in the high-level inter-Korean meeting yesterday, there seemed to be some strife between the South and North,” he said, “but in order for the Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore agreement to be somewhat fulfilled within the year at the very least, a declaration to end the war should happen within this year.”

Lee Sang-yeol added that the “devil is in the details” amid a tug-of-war between the North and United States on the denuclearization issue, which is why the group issued the statement with the recommendation of fair, mutual exchange as a way to break the deadlock.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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