SK President Moon holds talks with US President Trump to tackle NK’s latest move in run-up to NK-US summit
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with NK leader Kim Jong-un following their historic summit talks at Panmumjom on April 27.
U.S. President Donald Trump.
South Korean President Moon and NK leader Kim planted a tree with soil from Mt. Halla and Mt. Baekdu and set up a monument near the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom to wish for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula following their summit talks.
North Korea’s abrupt postponing of scheduled high-level inter-Korean talks and threatening to pull out of the upcoming NK-US summit scheduled on June 12 may be NK’s calculated scheme of wining more rewards from the U.S. in return for a historic deal on denuclearization with the United States.
North Korea’s about-turn in its move toward the thawing of inter-Korean ties and NK-US relations means North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is employing a strategy of brinkmanship (as if he is mastering an “art of deal”), experts on North Korea said. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump were caught off guard by North Korea’s sudden reversal.
The latest episode came after Trump, a maverick president who prides himself for his negotiating prowess, showered North Korean leader Kim with praise following the successful inter-Korean summit talks. Global attention is now on who will be smarter in the art of a deal and whether they agree on a deal.
SK President Moon and NK leader Kim issued a statement, dubbed the “Panmunjom Declaration,” calling for an end to the decades-long war and complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, following their historic summit talks at Panmunjom on April 27. South Korea also promised to implement massive inter-Korean economic projects.
The inter-Korean summit, in which President Moon also had his first one-on-one meeting with his NK counterpart, was hyped globally with much expectation as it was televised live.
The first inter-Korean summit took place in 2000 and the second was held in 2007.
But on May 16, North Korea delivered a message on its decision to postpone high-level inter-Korean talks hours before the scheduled meetings. The message, issued in the name of Ri Son-gwon, chairman of NK’s Committee for the Peaceful Unification of the Country, took issue with the ongoing SK-US joint military excise, dubbed “Max Thunder” and America’s “unfair” demands on denuclearization.
In a statement issued by the North’s Korean Central News Agency later in the same day, NK Foreign Vice Minister Kim Gye-gwan said, “If the U.S. is trying to drive up into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”
Expressing displeasure with the U.S. raising previous methods of denuclearization as benchmarks, including the Libyan model, Kim said it’s absurd to compare NK to Libya, which had been in an initial stage of nuclear development, because NK is already in possession of a nuclear arsenal.
NK was referring to remarks by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had been insisting on the Libyan model. Libya was forced to hand over all nuclear facilities to the U.S. in return for the easing of economic sanctions against.
Following several nuclear and missile tests, North Korea is believed to own about 50 nuclear warheads and has reached an advanced stage of delivering them, possibly even to the U.S. mainland.
In a response to NK Foreign Minister Kim, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee mentioned a “Trump model” in an apparent move to appease NK’s strong position.
U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo mentioned “prosperity” for NK like South Korea in return for NK dismantling its nuclear weapons in a permanent and verifiable fashion on May 11. “If NK takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the U.S. is prepared to work with NK to achieve prosperity on the part with our South Korean friends,” he was quoted as saying at a news conference with SK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa. U.S. Secretary Pompeo, former U.S. CIA director, made his second trip on May 9 to NK as many months to broker behind-the-scenes proceeding for NK-US summit and bring back three American detainees in NK.
President Trump made a strongly worded remark with a meeting with reporters on May 17 following his talk with Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg. He said denuclearization would lead NK to take a road to prosperity like South Korea, but NK would be decimated like Libya like if they fail to agree.
NK’s step to indefinitely cancel inter-Korean high-level talks is partly related to remarks made by an ex-NK envoy-turned defector to SK, who claimed that NK would not agree on a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID). Thae Yong-ho defected to SK in 2016 while serving as former NK deputy ambassador to the UK. He said NK’s latest overtures are designed to loosen the rope around NK, being imposed by the international community’s economic sanctions.
The Kim Jong-un regime would never seek to follow Vietnam or China’s economic development models, and instead it is seeking to promote a “closed model” for economic development, like the case of the Kaesong Industrial Complex model, which mostly blocked any contact between SK and other parts of NK, he added.
Thae made the remarks at the National Assembly on May 14 during a press conference to publicize his new book, titled “The Password from the Third Floor.” He was quoted saying that NK leader Kim will never give up his nuclear weapons to secure his regime’s security, but will instead abandon them substantially ― which he dubbed as “sufficient denuclearization to improve the economy and obtain support from the international community.” He insisted that NK leader Kim will not allow the US to make surprise inspections to find NK’s nuclear arsenal, which would undermine NK’s sacred rule idolizing Kim.
Thae expressed worry on whether the U.S. and NK have the same understanding of denuclearization or not and how to achieve it. He said the stark reality of the North Korean economy, strangled by U.S.-led sanctions, forced NK leader Kim to turn to dialogue and offer an olive branch to SK, in an apparent move to take advantage of inter-Korean economic cooperation.
The latest development happened as NK was to invite outside reporters to an event to mark the official dismantling of its nuclear test site at Punggaeri, North Korea. Earlier, North Korea released three Americans detained in NK, and President Trump attended a ceremony welcoming the returnees in person.
China Factor in NK-US Summit
The so-called “China factor” has played a part in NK’s preparation for the NK-U.S. summit talks.
NK-China ties had been fallen to the lowest levels after the North’s testing of numerous nuclear and long-range missiles. China, one of NK’s close allies and economic guardians, joined the U.S.-led economic sanctions, banning NK’s major emports and restricting petroleum imports from China, which has delivered a serious blow to NK. NK-China relations have been recovering in a fast pace recently, as North Korean leader Kim made a visit to China and met with Chinese President Xi Jin-ping in March and May.
NK leader Kim is apparently taking his cue from his deceased grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who employed an equal-distance diplomacy with China and Russia. China has begun to turn around the soured ties between NK and China so as not to lose its leverage over inter-Korean ties and NK-US relationships, as NK is returning to a dialogue table.
China’s latest thawing of its ties with NK makes NK bolder to demand more rewards from US from NK-US summit talks, experts said. North Korea is attempting to insert a wedge against a close alliance between SK and US, they warned. China is on the same wavelength with NK in demanding US troops’ eventual withdrawal from SK, which will give more maneuvers for China to wield power on the Korean Peninsula and the Pacific.
SK President Moon’s role as a mediator between NK and U.S. is getting more significant as the “Olympic detent,” which started with NK’s participating in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, has hit a snag.
President Moon had a 20-minute call with President Trump on NK’s latest move on May 20 before he leaves for Washington for their summit talks slated for May 22. Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said SK and US agreed to closely consult without wavering for the successful holding of NK-U.S. summit talks.
South Korean President Moon shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their summit at the White House last July 21.
S. Korea-China-Japan Summit Talks
South Korea, China and Japan held the 17th Tripartite Summit Talks in Tokyo on May 5 and agreed to make efforts toward the denuclearization of North Korea. But China and Japan clashed over issues concerning Japan’s past historical acts and NK’s kidnapping of Japanese civilians.
The tripartite summit talks, held in two and half years since the previous one, were attended by SK President Moon, Chinese Prime Minister Le Keqiang, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The leaders of the three countries had in-depth discussions over the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and share the view on the accomplishing of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. They adopted a special statement backing the “April 27 Panmunjom Declaration.”
The statement said the S. Korean, Chinese and Japanese leaders expressed hope that such additional efforts by related states as the upcoming NK-U.S. summit talks, which will follow the inter-Korean summit talks, will contribute to comprehensively solving their concerns to secure peace and safety on the region.
The three leaders reconfirmed that maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is in their common interests and responsibilities.
As for North Korean nuclear issues, Japan stressed pressure against NK, showing a different view from Korea and China, which both give more weight on dialogue. Japan demanded that complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of NK’s nuclear, mass-destruction weapons and ballistic missiles be included in the statement, but failed due to opposition from Korean and Chinese sides. Instead, the three countries agreed to the complete implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions against NK.
SK President Moon, Chinese Prime Minister Le Keqiang, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe join hands at the 17th Tripartite Summit Talks in Tokyo on May 5. (Photos on the courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae website)