Slow and steady is bestPresident Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to revive the momentum on negotiations for the denuclearization of North Korea in a meeting between the two leaders in Buenos Aires. In the talks on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, they reaffirmed the principle of maintaining strong sanctions on the rogue state until they achieve the goal of complete denuclearization of North Korea.
Both leaders also confirmed a second Trump-Kim summit between January and February of next year. Chinese President Xi Jinping also promised Trump that China will participate in the international sanctions until North Korea dismantles all of its nuclear weapons. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to denuclearize the country in his three summits with Moon and summit with Trump, but he refuses to take substantial steps. Instead, Kim’s insistence on easing sanctions and ending the 1950-53 Korean War caused the denuclearization talks to enter a stalemate. Nevertheless, the Moon administration persistently demanded that Washington ease the sanctions, as if it is on Pyongyang’s side. Seoul even pushed for an end-of-war declaration and a visit by Kim to Seoul this year.
As a result, the decades-old alliance has been put to the test. Security experts in South Korea criticized the Moon administration for trying to use the critical issue of denuclearization for its domestic politics. Skepticism also rapidly mounted in America over Pyongyang’s genuine willingness to denuclearize. Some hard-liners in the Democrat-controlled House in the United States have even mentioned the possibility of the Trump administration resorting to a military option if North Korea continues to drag its feet on denuclearization.
Under this tense fog of uncertainty, Kim still holds the key to resolving the stalemate. The future of North Korea and the Korean Peninsula depend on his attitudes toward denuclearization. If he does not take sincere and concrete actions to denuclearize, his trip to Seoul will make no difference. In that case, he cannot expect any of the international sanctions to be eased, despite his strong desire to lift them.
If Kim continues to dawdle on the denuclearization front, it will make it harder for Seoul and Pyongyang to hold a groundbreaking ceremony to reconnect the inter-Korean railways along the west and east coasts. Our government must patiently persuade Kim to take substantial denuclearization steps based on a solid alliance with Uncle Sam rather than impatiently speeding up the improvement of its ties with the North.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 3, Page 30