North Korea must changeHope has reared its head in the deadlocked denuclearization talks after the failed U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. President Donald Trump said he received a “beautiful letter” — once again — from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. On a state visit to Finland Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in expressed hopes for a third summit between Trump and Kim. In Oslo, Moon reaffirmed his hopes for another inter-Korean summit and U.S.-North summit sooner or later. Kim Jong-un sent a letter of condolence and flowers to the funeral of former first lady Lee Hee-ho, the widow of the late President Kim Dae-jung.
We welcome the latest developments suggesting renewed momentum for dialogue among related parties. But a bumpy road lies ahead for a full-fledged negotiation to take place. Above all, North Korea must change its attitude toward denuclearization. The stalemate between Washington and Pyongyang over the issue since the collapse of the Hanoi summit results from their fundamental difference on denuclearization. While North Korea expects a phased action-for-action approach, the United States adheres to a “big deal” with North Korea without accepting Kim’s demand to ease sanctions. At the center of the discrepancy lies Washington’s distrust of the recalcitrant state. North Korea must prove its sincerity through actions.
The concept and scope of denuclearization have not been made clear between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang has not accepted what Washington wants: an all-out denuclearization. North Korea must make its position clear before a third U.S.-North summit.
Otherwise, nuclear negotiations cannot but go adrift even if both sides resume dialogue. The top-down solution North Korea wanted proved elusive, as seen in the collapse of the Hanoi summit. The United States will demand a clear definition of denuclearization from North Korea to not repeat the failures in Singapore and Hanoi.
Our government, too, should make its position clearer. It must scrap its blind belief that denuclearization talks will go smoothly as long as it maintains good relations with North Korea. The government must pursue substantial dialogue with Pyongyang. If another inter-Korean summit is held, South Korea must focus on denuclearization.
The clock is ticking. A presidential race in the United States will certainly weaken momentum for denuclearization. Pyongyang wants sanctions to be lifted in order to survive. But it must change instead of demanding change from Washington.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 13, Page 30