Some crossed wires

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Some crossed wires

 President Moon Jae-in had his first phone conversation with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden Thursday. In the 15-minute talk, both leaders reaffirmed the significance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and agreed to meet in the near future. We welcome it.

Shortly after the conversation, Moon wrote on Facebook that he affirmed Biden’s strong determination toward peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula. Biden described South Korea as a “linchpin in the Indo-Pacific region” in the conversation after paying his respects at the Philadelphia Korean War Memorial. Biden’s remarks translate into an intention to upgrade the alliance to the importance it held in the Obama administration, reconfirm the United States’ commitment to defending South Korea and reinforce cooperation with Seoul to deal with North Korean nuclear threats and intensifying U.S.-China conflict.

Over the past three and half years, the Korea-U.S. alliance has been seriously damaged due to the Trump administration’s unilateralism and the Moon administration’s pro-North and China-friendly policy. Seoul and Washington must restore the alliance. They must address friction over the sharing of defense costs as early as possible and resume joint military drills that were suspended as a Moon administration peace gesture toward North Korea. The two leaders also must help rebuild diplomacy among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

However, during the call, there was an obvious gap in their perception of North Korean issues. While Biden emphasized resolving the nuclear threats, Moon stressed denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That can provoke misunderstandings from Biden’s administration as it is in line with North Korea’s demand for a pullout of U.S. strategic assets from South Korea. Moon appreciated Trump’s North Korea policy and expressed high hopes that Biden’s administration inherits the policy. But in a TV debate, Biden attacked Trump for gaining nothing despite his three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Biden said he would meet Kim only if he agrees to “draw down” his nuclear capability.

Moon had better not think about denuclearizing North Korea through a “small deal” — easing sanctions in return for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility or some stunt like a meaningless declaration of an end to the Korean War. Biden will most likely deal with North Korea based on careful discussions with his aides instead of following Trump’s top-down approach. Moon must focus on the denuclearization of North Korea based on a cool-headed approach to the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. That’s the only way to move toward peace and prosperity of the peninsula.
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