Cart before the horse

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Cart before the horse

After the breakdown of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, discord between Seoul and Washington has been deepening. The U.S. media has increasingly been criticizing President Moon Jae-in for siding with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. They are even raising the possibility of Moon and Trump being split over the issue. The Blue House says our alliance is solid as always, but the atmosphere in the government suggests otherwise.

In an address to mark the centennial of the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement — less than 24 hours after the collapse of the Hanoi summit — Moon announced a plan to discuss resumption of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tours to Mount Kumgang with the United States. In a National Security Council meeting on March 4, he instructed government officials to push forward the inter-Korean economic cooperation projects he had agreed to push in his summits with Kim last year.

When Kim demanded lifting of sanctions in return for dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, Trump rejected it, saying it was impossible unless North Korea scrapped all its ballistic missiles and biological and chemical weapons. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton confirmed that Washington is discussing with allies how to put more pressure on the recalcitrant state to prevent it from importing fuel and other materials through illegal shipments on the seas. Under such circumstances, the Moon administration expressed a willingness to reopen the joint industrial park and resume tours to Mount Kumgang.

No one would find fault with Moon’s role as a “facilitator” of U.S.-North dialogue. But the Hanoi summit proves it must lead to the complete denuclearization of North Korea. As South Korea is the most vulnerable to the North’s nuclear arsenal, Seoul must help Washington strike a “big deal” with Pyongyang. That will be possible only when Seoul supports Washington’s two-track approach based on both pressure and dialogue.

Keeping silent after the Hanoi summit, North Korea shows some alarming signs of restoring a missile test site in Tongchang-ri. Trying to reopen the industrial park and resume Kumgang tours under such circumstances does not make sense. The move violates the United Nations Resolution 2087, which strictly bans any transfer of bulk cash to North Korea.

The Moon administration must stop believing that North Korea will denuclearize as long as inter-Korean relations go smoothly. Sustainable inter-Korean cooperation can be opened only when Seoul and Washington join forces to denuclearize North Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 7, Page 30
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