Recklessness still possibleWashington hinted it could exchange an end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula in return for Pyongyang’s comprehensive declaration of denuclearization. Stephen Biegun, special representative of the Trump administration for day-to-day dealings with North Korea, said in a speech at Stanford University on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump was open to an end-of-war declaration by the two Koreas.
“The president of the United States is convinced that it’s time to move past 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula. There is no reason for this conflict to persist any longer,” he said.
Biegun assured his audience that the United States has no plan to invade North Korea or topple its regime and said, “When the last nuclear weapon leaves North Korea, sanctions are lifted, the flag goes up in the embassy and the [peace] treaty is signed in the same hour.”
The comments came before leaders of the two states are to meet for the second time sometime this month.
Washington has turned bolder on the North Korean front where little action has been seen since the summit last June. It has so far been disapproving of the two Korean leaders’ idea of an end-of-war declaration. The United States became more concrete in the kind of “corresponding” actions it may offer, including not just a declaration, but a multibillion-dollar package to dramatically improve the North Korean economy. The package is being dubbed a “pot of gold” to tempt North Korea to come up with convincing actions. But the reward would come only when North Korea makes a comprehensive declaration of its nuclear and missile weapons, has experts verify the dismantlement and commit to final, fully verified denuclearization, Biegun said. He warned the United States has “contingencies” prepared in case negotiations fail. Although he did not go into details, Washington usually refers to a military option as a contingency.
A rash move toward a war-ending declaration, however, can raise alarms as it would immediately stop South Korea-U.S. military exercises. Without regular exercises, U.S. troops would have less reason to stay in the South, weakening the longstanding alliance between Seoul and Washington. The first thing Pyongyang would demand would be an end to the joint war drills and then move on to ask for the pulling out of U.S. troops. The U.S. Congress last month tabled a bill demanding a strong reason for any cutback in U.S. troops in South Korea and sent a letter to the Defense Department asking for resumption of the military exercises.
It is a relief to learn Washington remains firm on full and irreversible denuclearization. There are fears in the South that Washington would settle for the dismantlement of long-range missiles. Such a compromise would make North Korea a nuclear state. Seoul must closely mediate in the Washington-Pyongyang denuclearization talks to ensure the South Korea-U.S. defense alliance does not become a part of a reckless trade-off.
JoongAng Sunday, Feb. 2, Page 30