You should never let your guard down when you deal with North Korea. Yet, recent developments raise hope for fruitful discussions at the summit talks its leader Kim Jong-un will hold with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.
Despite the dramatic arrangement of the Moon-Kim talks, which will be followed by the Trump-Kim meeting, there had been some uncertainties, especially regarding the latter meeting. Those with the most skeptical view had opined that a Trump-Kim meeting could be aborted at any time.
Mike Pompeo’s secret visit to North Korea over Easter Weekend wiped away any such lingering skepticism. Trump said that Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency he nominated to become secretary of state, formed a “good relationship” with Kim during his visit to Pyongyang.
Trump’s positive assessment of Pompeo’s visit to the North Korean capital, the first of its kind since then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met the late Kim Jong-il in 2000, indicates that the two sides were sincere in having substantial discussions at the summit slated for late May or early June.
The comments Pompeo made at US Senate hearings that followed his clandestine trip to Pyongyang also raised the possibility that Kim gave convincing commitment to denuclearization. Pompeo said that he was “optimistic” that the US could set the conditions for “a peaceful solution that can be acceptable to each side.”
Trump himself said that denuclearization is a great thing for the world, but also for North Korea and that it would open a “bright path” for the North.
Moon also expressed optimism about his talks with Kim, saying that North Korea is committed to a “complete denuclearization.”
Another positive factor for the prospects for the series of high-level talks involving North Korea is that the upcoming discussions could pave the way not only for the North’s denuclearization but also establishing permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
The first such hint came from Cheong Wa Dae. A top presidential official said that the two Koreas plan to discuss ways to declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which stopped in a truce, and replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty.
It means that if progress is made in the denuclearization issue, establishment of a permanent peace regime on the peninsula which had been a long aspiration of all Koreans could be in sight. That will certainly have tremendous effects not only on the peninsula but also geopolitics and security situation in the region.
The historical fact is that the Korean War came to halt -- which means the two sides are still at war technically -- with an armistice agreement signed by the commanders of the US-led UN forces and the North Korean and Chinese troops that fought in the three-year war. It is not only because of this historical fact that officially ending the war and setting up a peace regime cannot be achieved without support of neighboring powers like the US and China.
In this context, Trump gave a timely support to the proposal as he said that the two Koreas had his “blessing” to discuss the end of the war. He added that the US hoped to see the day when the whole Korean Peninsula can live together in safety, prosperity and peace. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said Beijing supports ending the Korean War and establishing a peace regime.
But achieving the goal won’t be easy. There should be concrete agreements on which countries will be involved and in what manner in the peace mechanism. Sensitive issues like the stationing of US troops in South Korea could also pop up anytime, even though Moon said that the North is not demanding withdrawal of American soldiers from the South.
Nevertheless, putting the tragic fratricidal war behind and opening a peaceful era for Koreans should be the most important work along with achieving the North’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. It is good to hear that Moon and Trump share such a view.