Confusion in New York

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Confusion in New York


Kim Hyun-ki
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

There were three moments that confused me during my trip to New York last week.

The first was President Moon Jae-in’s interview with Fox News in New York. Moon emphasized that ending the Korean War was a political statement en route to signing a peace treaty, and can be revoked. He added that the United States has nothing to lose from the declaration.

I was very confused. Two months ago, there was heated debate over this issue with Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun at the correspondents’ meeting in Washington. Cho said that he would look into the issue further once he returned to the headquarters. A week later, he said that after a further review, it was not appropriate to discuss the legal effect of a political statement that is not legally binding. He said it would be difficult to unilaterally revoke such an agreement after it was announced. It was an authoritative interpretation of the official in charge of treaties and international laws in the Foreign Ministry.

However, Moon said otherwise in New York. Who should I trust? Why are the interpretation of the Foreign Ministry and the interpretation of the president different? Moreover, North Korea said on Oct. 2 that it would not obsess over the end-of-war declaration. It is very confusing.

The second was North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho’s keynote speech at the United Nations on Sept. 29. He reiterated the need for the end-of-war declaration and then brought up the issue of the UN Command. “It is merely a ‘command of allied forces’ beyond the control of the UN which only obeys the orders of the United States. But the problem is that it is still misusing the sacred name of the UN,” he claimed.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the conclusion of their meetings in Singapore on June 12. [AP/YONHAP]

His remarks do not correspond to Moon’s address at the Council on Foreign Relations on Sept. 25, in which he said, “An end-of-war declaration cannot affect the status of the UN Command, and Kim Jong-un also agreed to the concept of the declaration.” Ri’s claim may be a prelude to how North Korea would act after the declaration. Let’s say that the two Koreas and the United States agree to issue a declaration to end the war. Could that be all? China, which is directly involved in the armistice agreement, is demanding the dissolution of the UN Command, calling it a vestige of the Cold War. It is a complicated issue that cannot be resolved simply by South and North Korea’s promise to keep their existing systems and by convincing Trump of the need for an end-of-war declaration.

The third was Trump’s press conference in New York on Sept. 26. As I saw in Singapore, Trump was befuddled and talked about whatever came to his mind. His narratives would flow to an absurd direction and often did not come back to the topic. Fortunately, I could watch the faces of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his national security adviser John Bolton. It was interesting that they could not help laughing through the conference. In short, I could not trust Trump’s words. He was full of factual errors and exaggerations. He said that he prevented a war on the Korean Peninsula and saved “30 million” people in Seoul. On denuclearization, he said, “If it takes two years, three years or five months — doesn’t matter.” But it was more rhetoric to stress that he would not concede easily. In the end, it was his way of boasting. So, foreign media didn’t put much weight on Trump’s remarks on North Korea. That may explain why there were only two questions on North Korea of the 44 questions asked over the 81-minute press conference.

Last weekend, Trump said he “fell in love” with Kim Jong-un. Kim must be very good at writing love letters, as Trump reciprocated and confessed his love. I don’t intend to interfere with their romance. I only hope it produces an outcome. How should I interpret the situation, when Kim Jong-un sent another love letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping asking to “hold hands” the day after Trump’s confession of love? The three embarrassing moments can be boiled down to this: the peace mediator made a risky guarantee; the love letters seem to have ulterior motives; and confessions of love seem exaggerated.
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