February 21, 2019 13:34
President Moon Jae-in spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on the telephone on Tuesday night and said he is ready to step up to the role of spearheading cross-border economic cooperation with North Korea. Moon asked Trump to use South Korea as a conduit to reward the North if the reclusive state lives up to its denuclearization pledges. In other words, he told the U.S. president that South Korea is willing to foot the bill of any agreements from a summit with the North.
The leaders of the U.S. and North Korea will sit face to face in a week. At this point, there is only one message South Korea's president should be giving his U.S. counterpart, namely to insist that he persuade North Korea to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons. The South will remain a hostage to the North if it keeps even one nuclear bomb.
Such a clear message is even more necessary at a time when the outlook for North Korean denuclearization is increasingly murky. More preparatory talks between the two sides are not expected until Friday. This means the chances of another rushed summit like the debacle in Singapore last year are very high. Already Trump has said he is in "no rush whatsoever" to conclude a nuclear deal with North Korea.
Yet South Korea's president has rashly pledged to help North Korea's economy without any guarantee of complete denuclearization. Surely any economic aid must be preceded by complete denuclearization. Easing sanctions before that happens is the same as giving up.
South Korea will by and by have to play a leading role in aiding North Korea's economic growth if the North is sincere about denuclearization, and the South Korean public will gladly support the expenditure. But there is absolutely no reason to volunteer for that task before the North has given even a hint that it will get rid of its nukes. All Moon has done is deliberately and recklessly relinquished his leverage in the denuclearization process.
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