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Seoul should be cool-headed about N. Korea: former UN chief

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that the South Korean government should keep a cool head about a diplomatic opening with North Korea ahead of the planned inter-Korean summit.

Warning of the “nature of North Korea,” Ban, who was also foreign minister here from 2004-2006, said that Pyongyang is reaching out to Seoul at this particular moment due to a faltering economy and social conditions brought on by heavy international sanctions.

“We are very hopeful and excited we may be able to reduce drastically the current level of security concerns. If everything goes well, we may be able to open something for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said Ban, speaking at a lecture, titled “Asia and the World,” at Seoul National University on Monday.

“But my caution is that we must make sure to keep a cool head about how we could proceed,” he said, citing North Korea’s provocations that “put the Korean Peninsula at the brink of war” last year.

The two Koreas are scheduled to hold a summit in late April, riding on momentum created by the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last month.

On a wave of positive sentiment, Seoul has striven to broker talks between North Korea and the US to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un invited US President Donald Trump for a summit in a surprising breakthrough following a year of hostilities and insults between the leaders. The US and North Korea are preparing to hold talks by the end of May.
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Yonhap)
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Yonhap)
“But why at this time, North Korea had reached out?” he asked. “They have been under tight international sanctions by the UN Security Council. Even China is tightening sanctions against North Korea.

“North Korea is a very small economy under tighter and tighter control of international community. There may be no way out for it,” the former top diplomat said. “We must understand that North Korea is reaching out under these conditions.”

Ban, who was elected to lead the Global Green Growth Institute in February for a two-year term and who also co-chairs the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, participated in the two Koreas’ negotiations which led to the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in 1991.

He stressed the need for South Korea to maintain close coordination with its closest ally, the United States.

“We just should make sure that everything is closely coordinated with the US, so there will be no daylight between South Korea and the US in their strategic alliance partnership in dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue.”

Nonetheless, Ban praised the current conciliatory mood on the Korean Peninsula and the upcoming summit between Washington and Pyongyang, saying it could be the “most important and historic event since the end of World War II.”

“We must not lose this historic opportunity,” he said, noting the hopeful result of a summit with North Korea would be the reclusive regime’s commitment to dismantling its nuclear and missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

As for the looming possibility of the US using a military option against North Korea, Ban said that any country should be prepared to protect its people, national security and sovereign integrity via military strength.

“I don’t think he (Trump) has been willing to resolve this through military power,” Ban said. “In principle, there is no such military solution. It can never be a sustainable solution. The solution is a negotiation through peaceful dialogue.

“But if all these tools don’t work, particularly when dealing with a regime like North Korea, not only by word, but by action, you have to make sure you are well protected.”

Ban also touched upon the possible reunification of the two Koreas.

“If anything happens today, we must take action,” he said, hinting at the North Korean regime’s possible collapse. “Otherwise, we lose it permanently. There is no perfect timing for reunification. We should sacrifice.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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