Moon Needs to Stay Wary of N.Korea

      May 28, 2018 13:21

      It looked like a veritable love-in when President Moon Jae-in held his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Saturday, which Moon described as being "an ordinary event between friends." In reality, Kim called Moon for help, alarmed by Trump's abrupt cancellation of their planned summit in Singapore next month.

      Moon said Kim "again made clear his commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." But when asked if Kim agreed to the U.S.' demand for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, he had no answer, and said instead the success of the summit will depend on how well negotiations between working-level officials go. Which is it to be? Commitment to denuclearization or small-grained negotiations? The president cannot simply entrust the safety of his citizens to the supposed good will of Kim Jong-un and ignore the details.

      The fate of the nation depends on North Korea's decision to scrap its nuclear weapons. Kim voiced his willingness to dismantle them when he met the South Korea special envoy and when he held his first summit with Moon. But North Korea has been saying the exact same thing since it first agreed to freeze them under the Geneva Accords in 1994, all the while squandering its resources on acquiring a nuclear arsenal. The North kept international experts away from its supposed destruction of its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri last week. Why would it do that if it is really interested in scrapping its nuclear weapons?

      North Korea needs to come clean and reveal exactly how many nuclear weapons and fissile materials it has, where they are stored and when it intends to dismantle them. As long as the North fails to do this, it cannot be trusted. It continues to repeat the same old line that it will have no need for nuclear weapons if the U.S. promises to respect the regime, but what it really means is that it has no intention of scrapping its nuclear weapons.

      "What Kim is unclear about is that he has concerns about whether his country can surely trust the United States over its promise to end hostile relations and provide a security guarantee if they do denuclearization," Moon explained. But normalized relations with the U.S., an end to international sanctions and the signing of a peace treaty are practically guaranteed once it completely scraps its nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner. No member of the international community is opposed to this, including the U.S. But instead the South Korean president is siding with North Korea and making comments that sound as if he is criticizing the way the U.S. is handling the negotiations. Moon seems if anything in favor of North Korea's "salami-slicing tactics" of demanding concessions for each step it takes toward denuclearization.

      Moon and Kim agreed to hold high-level talks on Friday, apparently to put further pressure on the U.S. But it was the North that abruptly canceled the talks, which were scheduled for May 16, citing joint U.S.-South Korean aerial drills. Moon did not explain why Kim first told him that he "understands" the need for joint drills and then suddenly performed an about-turn. North Korea's rapid flip-flopping shows very little respect for South Korea. At a time like this, Seoul should stand shoulder to shoulder with Washington in pressuring Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons. Playing the role of a muddling intermediary could have catastrophic consequences.

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