Naïve mediationA memoir by former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton has stirred up controversy even before its release. The book claims that President Moon Jae-in relayed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s promise of complete denuclearization to U.S. President Donald Trump. Bolton went on to say that Moon had notified Trump of his request to Kim to get rid of his nuclear weapons within a year and his “agreement to the scrapping of his nuclear arsenal.”
Bolton also said that in contrast with Moon’s overly optimistic views on denuclearization, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe told Trump not to believe what Kim said. If Bolton’s memories are correct, we cannot rule out the possibility that Moon and his administration stretched the meaning of what Kim meant by “denuclearization” and conveyed that to Washington.
According to Bolton, Moon strongly pushed for a Trump-Kim summit in Panmunjom shortly followed by a tripartite summit between Moon, Trump and Kim there, but Moon’s idea was rejected by Kim who preferred Singapore for his first summit with Trump. With regard to a proposed declaration to end the Korean War, Bolton claimed that he had thought it was North Korea’s idea from the beginning, but it turned out to be part of Moon’s unification agenda. Bolton recalled that Trump also held the historic Singapore summit to attract international attention with the conviction that it would succeed no matter what.
If Bolton is to be believed, the Singapore summit was more focused on promoting Moon’s unification agenda and highlighting Trump’s showmanship than on removing North Korean nuclear weapons. Bolton’s remarks — such as “The whole diplomatic fandango was South Korea’s creation” and “Kim had Trump hooked in Singapore” — suggest the summit was ill-conceived from the beginning.
The Moon administration played a key role in the two summits, as seen in the fact that the Singapore summit took place just three months after Moon’s National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong traveled to Washington after meeting with Kim in Pyongyang. But what Kim meant by “denuclearization” was the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, including the scrapping of U.S. nuclear arms in South Korea and Japan.
It remains to be seen if the Moon administration was willingly or inadvertently cheated by North Korea. Given the repeated provocations, the government cannot refute the criticism that it exaggerated Pyongyang’s will to denuclearize and delivered it to Washington. The Moon administration must change its overly optimistic North Korea policy before it is too late.