In the driver’s seatU.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Pyongyang soon. He expressed hopes that Pompeo will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on his trip. In surprising remarks, Bolton also said that Kim had agreed to President Moon Jae-in’s proposal that North Korea completely denuclearize within a year in his April 27 summit with Moon at Panmunjom. Bolton might have heard that from Moon shortly after his summit with Kim. Breaking the diplomatic taboo that personal dialogue between heads of state be kept secret, Bolton told similar stories on Aug. 5 as well.
Ahead of Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Sept. 9 founding of the North Korean regime, and President Moon’s first trip to Pyongyang, a more complicated equation emerges. Washington’s position that it cannot agree to a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War without first denuclearizing North Korea directly collides with Pyongyang’s demand for a simultaneous pursuit of a declaration and easing of sanctions. In such volatile circumstances, the involved parties — the two Koreas, the U.S. and China — are all engaged in a complicated type of diplomacy.
Bolton’s remarks could be aimed at pressuring North Korea or he could have made the remarks to let the world know that President Trump came to Singapore to meet Kim because he believed what Moon told him. In a similar vein, a top U.S. official warned that the South Korean government’s effort to set up a liaison office for inter-Korean affairs in the Kaesong Industrial Complex could be a violation of the UN and U.S.-imposed sanctions. But the Blue House claimed it won’t.
The period ahead will be a turning point. It is time to turn on an emergency light amid a thick blanket of fog. Moon underscored that South Korea must take the driver’s seat when it comes to peninsular issues. If so, he must remind himself that South Korea is a party directly affected by North Korea’s nuclear threats and that we cannot improve inter-Korean relations without substantial progress in denuclearization. Moon must raise the issue in his summit with Kim. That is the only way for South Korea to clear international suspicions and become master of its own destiny.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 21, Page 30