Hopes rise for Korean Peninsula thaw

By Choi He-suk

Moon and Xi agree to increase cooperation toward peaceful resolution of NK nuclear issue

  • Published : Jan 11, 2018 - 19:40
  • Updated : Jan 11, 2018 - 20:24
Hopes for a lasting thaw in inter-Korean relations and decreasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula are rising, with South Korean and US leaders expressing willingness to talk directly with North Korea.

On Thursday, Moon also spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who expressed support for Seoul’s efforts to improve relations with North Korea.

“The two leaders agreed to increase strategic communication and cooperation so that the recent inter-Korean talks can go beyond the Olympics and lead to peaceful resolution of North Korean nuclear issue, and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Yoon said in a statement.

Yoon added that Xi also expressed full support for Moon’s position that improving inter-Korean relations, and denuclearization should be sought simultaneously.

This followed a late-night telephone conservation with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said he is willing to talk with Pyongyang if conditions are met, reassuring that no military actions would be taken while the two Koreas are engaged in dialogue. 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Yonhap)

“The two leaders assessed that inter-Korean talks could go beyond the PyeongChang Olympics, and lead to US-North Korea talks on denuclearization,” Cheong Wa Dae’s chief press officer Yoon Young-chan said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the two Koreas held their first high-level talks in more than two years, during which North Korea confirmed its participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and agreed to hold military talks.

On Wednesday, Moon said that he would engage in any dialogue deemed beneficial to inter-Korean relations, including summit talks. However, he added that “talks for the sake of talks” are not acceptable and that Seoul would execute a two-track strategy of engagement and pressure.

Yoon said Trump also stated the US could talk with Pyongyang “at an appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”

He added that Trump denied recent reports he was considering military options against North Korea, and the US leader made it clear that no military action of any kind would be taken as long as the two Koreas are engaged in dialogue.

While Cheong Wa Dae chose to focus on Trump’s reassurance that military action would not be taken, the White House highlighted the two leaders’ stance on maintaining pressure on the North. 

“The two leaders underscored the importance of continuing the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea,” the White House said in a statement on its website.

However, Pyongyang is unlikely to willingly provide the conditions South Korea and the US would deem sufficient for engaging in further talks.

Although the US president did not elaborate on the conditions for talks, the current and previous US administrations have repeatedly stated that complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is their ultimate goal.

In addition, with Trump having vocally criticized his predecessors and past South Korean administrations for failing to denuclearize North Korea, he is unlikely to engage in talks without solid evidence to suggest that the outcome will be different.

In giving the green light on Jan. 4 to the postponing of joint military drills for the duration of the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Trump stressed the need for “maximum pressure” and to avoid past mistakes in dealing with the North.

North Korea, for its part, has its own conditions and demands.

Pyongyang has long claimed its nuclear weapons are a nonnegotiable deterrence against attacks by the US.

One of the conditions demanded by Pyongyang -- one Seoul and Washington have shown no intention of accepting -- is ending the joint military exercises between the allies.

On Thursday, North Korea once again accused Seoul of destabilizing the situation on the peninsula.

“If South Korea truly wants easing of tension and peace on the Korean Peninsula, military actions conducted with foreign powers must be stopped,” opined the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

The newspaper also labeled the South Korea-US military exercises and Seoul’s drive to strengthen military capabilities as the main causes of military tension, making the situation on the peninsula “dangerous and unpredictable.”

The paper directly contradicted Moon’s statement from Wednesday, saying that the continued military standoff would lead to a “vicious cycle of confrontation.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Moon said talks for improving inter-Korean relations would help to create conditions for denuclearization, which would in turn lead to better relations, creating a cycle of positive feedback.

North Korea is considered unlikely to accept denuclearization.

Ri Son-gwon, who headed the North Korean delegation in Tuesday’s talks, expressed strong discontent at the mention of denuclearization. Ri is the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of North Korea.

At the end of the talks, Ri said that denuclearization discussion would have negative effects on inter-Korean relations, adding that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were not an “issue between the Koreas.” He said his country’s missile and nuclear programs were aimed solely at the US.

By Choi He-suk (