Farewell wishful thinkingThe Moon Jae-in administration’s peace initiative toward North Korea faces a crisis after Pyongyang has stated that it will not exchange denuclearization for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War. On Tuesday, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s mouthpiece, made the comment that a declaration to end the war cannot be a gift to North Korea, nor is an item to exchange for denuclearization.
Some security experts link the North’s startling statement to a war of nerves ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang to pave the way for a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Other experts say the announcement reveals what kind of approach North Korea will take in regard to the denuclearization process. It remains to be seen if that represents the North’s real intentions. At the very least, the statement can be interpreted as a warning against growing expectations of decisive action such as the dismantling of its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. Some security analysts predict that Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang will be delayed.
Nevertheless, it is becoming clear that the Moon administration’s strategy of finding a breakthrough in the nuclear deadlock through a declaration ending the war is risky. In fact, the Blue House — and Moon himself — have persistently underscored the importance of the declaration. For instance, in an interview with Fox News on Sept. 25 — shortly after his third summit with Kim in Pyongyang — Moon went so far as to say that actions corresponding to the North’s denuclearization do not necessarily mean easing of sanctions. Instead, a declaration to end the war, humanitarian aid or cultural exchanges also can constitute such corresponding measures, he stressed. That is the same as the argument that a declaration to end the war can achieve denuclearization. Moon’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong joined the chorus by highlighting the need for a declaration in the initial stages of denuclearization.
Now that such a “meaningful” declaration has unexpectedly been dismissed by North Korea, the Moon administration may be embarrassed. But North Korea has never expressed a willingness to denuclearize in return for a declaration ending the war. The government must wake up from its blind faith in such a declaration. Our government must abandon its optimism that Pyongyang will kick off denuclearization once the declaration is made. Policy must be based on reality.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 26