January 10, 2018 13:27
North Korea officially confirmed at Tuesday's cross-border talks that it is taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a joint press release, South and North Korea said they agreed to three terms to ease tensions -- cooperation to ensure the success of the Winter Olympics, military talks and a resolve to deal with inter-Korean issues through dialogue. The two sides also agreed to resume contact at lower levels of government, and a military hotline that was severed after the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex was reconnected.
Everyone knows why the North suddenly decided to come to the Olympics. It wants to use the sports extravaganza an opportunity to drive a wedge between Seoul, which hopes for dialogue to resume, and Washington, which seeks to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Stirrings of this were already evident at the meeting, when the head of the North Korean delegation complained bitterly about negative reports in the South Korean press about his country's nuclear weapons when, he said, they are squarely aimed at the U.S., not South Korea. Still, as long as North Korea is taking part in the Olympics, it will probably not conduct a nuclear test or missile launch. That alone makes it important.
But the real issue remains the denuclearization of North Korea. There is no prospect that the North will give up its nuclear weapons simply because it is participating in the Olympics. Instead of raising the matter strongly, South Korean officials treated it as a formality at Tuesday's meeting, and even then the head of the North Korean delegation quailed. In short, the North has no intention at all of dismantling its nuclear weapons program and will not discuss it with the South.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Monday, "Past history would indicate that is a feint" and added that the inter-Korean talks are "not likely to lead to any true change in [Kim Jong-un's] strategic outlook." The New York Times published an editorial on Tuesday entitled "Can South Korea Avoid Getting Played by the North?" and the Wall Street Journal wrote that "a time of reckoning" will come after the Winter Olympics.
Yet Seoul must keep trying. North Korea has no other choice but to give up its nuclear weapons program, and no ploy to use the South Korean government to soften sanctions can succeed. The government must not forget that the purpose of any dialogue is to get the North to scrap its nuclear weapons. That also means preparing for disappointment when the North inevitably refuses and turns on South Korea again.
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