Perils of a nuclear freezeEven before all the hoopla over the dramatic meeting Sunday in Panmunjom between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un subsides, the possibility of Washington and Pyongyang settling for a nuclear freeze has been raised in the American media. A nuclear freeze means accepting North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons in return for banning it from building more of them. In the Panmunjom summit, Trump and Kim agreed to resume working-level talks to denuclearize North Korea.
What attracts our particular attention is what negotiation plan Washington will come up with. The New York Times reported that Washington could be satisfied with a nuclear freeze, not full denuclearization. The Washington Post also raised the possibility of Washington moving the goal posts from a fully denuclearized Korean Peninsula to a nuclear freeze.
After those reports, the State Department denied them. White House National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted, “I read this NYT story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK’.”
And yet, there is no smoke without fire.
In fact, Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, hinted at the possibility of a nuclear freeze. “We are prepared to pursue — simultaneously and in parallel — all of the commitments our two leaders made in their joint statement at Singapore last summer,” he said earlier this year. The simultaneous and in-parallel approach is what the North has consistently demanded: easing some sanctions in exchange for the dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The remaining nukes and nuclear facilities are to be removed later step by step. If that happens, North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons is basically recognized by the international community.
Once North Korea’s status as a nuclear power is recognized, a serious security imbalance between South and North Korea occurs. Pyongyang will certainly call for the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula. The Moon Jae-in administration must understand the major repercussions of a nuclear freeze.
As no progress has been made in denuclearization, the government must let go of its wishful thinking. In a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Moon described the Panmunjom meeting as “the beginning of a new peace era.” He better get to work if he really wants to bring peace to the peninsula.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 3, Page 30