A watershed moment

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A watershed moment

Another watershed moment has arrived for the Korean Peninsula. Seoul will dispatch a presidential envoy team to Pyongyang on Wednesday in hopes of reviving denuclearization momentum amid deadlocked negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

This month is packed with high-profile events. Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pyongyang around Sept. 9, when the North celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is the next guest in Pyongyang. Seoul had hoped Moon would be able to officially declare that Korea was finally graduating from the de facto war status at the United Nations General Assembly later this month, since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953.

The hopeful scenario was ruined after the White House called off State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s planned visit. Hawks in Washington are already talking about resuming military exercises that had been called off following the June summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders and earlier meetings between Moon and Kim Jong-un.

As in March, Chung Eui-yong, Moon’s national security adviser, is the top envoy for this week’s visit to Pyongyang. Seoul has been sticking to a similar routine to set the momentum for dialogue. A special envoy gets Pyongyang engaged and arranges the summit agenda. During and after inter-Korean summit talks, Seoul persuades Pyongyang and Washington to hold separate dialogue. The Kim-Trump meeting in Singapore came about through this procedure. Seoul hopes to generate similar results through this week’s meeting.

But Seoul is under greater pressure this time to bring home tangible results. The Blue House said the envoys would be discussing the upcoming summit agenda, inter-Korean relationship and denuclearization process. The envoy must go to Pyongyang with denuclearization as the top priority. Without action on the denuclearization front, there cannot be any progress in North Korea-U.S. dialogue or a guaranteed peace for the Korean Peninsula.

The U.S. State Department said that the Seoul envoy must stay in tune with developments in denuclearization. It is putting out a warning that the two Koreas should not hasten to improve relations when there are no developments with denuclearization. Another inter-Korean summit devoid of real denuclearization results would be meaningless. The envoys must persuade North Korean officials that bilateral ties cannot move forward unless Pyongyang takes convincing actions toward denuclearization.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 3, Page 30
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