Kim’s last chance

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Kim’s last chance

On Wednesday, South and North Korea held a groundbreaking ceremony at Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea, to reconnect inter-Korean railways and roads. The event was made possible thanks to the South Korean government’s close consultation with Stephen Biegun, the United States Special Representative for North Korea, over whether such an event could be allowed despite sanctions imposed by the UN and the United States on North Korea after its repeated nuclear and missile tests. With the successful staging of the event, expectations are growing for Washington and Pyongyang to make progress in deadlocked talks about the denuclearization of North Korea after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang in October.

After close coordination with Washington, Seoul also plans to deliver Tamiflu — an antiviral medicine for treatment of influenza — to North Korea by the end of the year. The United States is also considering the idea of lifting its travel ban on North Korea for some categories of Americans. Vice President Mike Pence cancelled a speech criticizing human rights violations by North Korea. Pyongyang must not miss the opportunity.

Despite an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, both sides could not make any progress over the last six months. The stalemate is mostly due to the North’s reluctance to take follow-up measures, including reporting its nuclear facilities and stockpiles. North Korea wants to see sanctions lifted as soon as possible and draw economic aid from the United States by directly striking a deal with Trump.

But Pyongyang must understand that it can hardly expect the lifting of multi-layered sanctions without convincing Capitol Hill of its sincerity. Washington only allowed the groundbreaking ceremony to take place, not the $8 million in humanitarian aid that Seoul has been trying to give Pyongyang since last year.

Moreover, Trump’s power is expected to shrink in 2019. When the new Congress convenes in February, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is expected to attack Trump’s North Korea policy. Pyongyang must not turn a deaf ear to our unification minister’s warning that inter-Korean relations will get worse unless substantial progress is made on the denuclearization front. The ball is in North Korea’s court. We hope Kim Jong-un seizes the last chance to denuclearize in his New Year’s address.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 34
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