Hopes are running high for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis. The recent inter-Korean summit offered the first ray of hope and the forthcoming meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is further brightening the prospects.
Trump said that the date and location have been set for his historic meeting with the North Korean leader. Given that Trump had previously said that he would not meet Kim or “respectfully” leave a meeting with him if their discussions were not fruitful, the setting up of a meeting itself indicates that the two sides see high chances of agreement on the key issue of denuclearization.
With the crucial faceoff between Trump and Kim coming up, there are a flurry of summitries and other diplomatic activities going on. President Moon Jae-in, who held a largely successful meeting with Kim at the truce village of Panmunjeom, will fly to Tokyo on Wednesday to hold a three-way meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Moon then will meet Trump in Washington on May 22.
Besides, there is also talk of a possible gathering of Moon, Kim and Trump, and even four-way talks involving Chinese President Xi Jinping.
At the center of the diplomatic storm, North Korea is sending positive signals -- so far at least. The North said it would invite South Korean and US experts and journalists to observe the shutdown of its nuclear test site this month. There have also been reports that the North will release three American citizens detained in the country ahead of the Kim-Trump meeting.
It would be more than good if all goes well as these positive developments portend. In the best case-scenario, Kim and Trump would strike a deal to get rid of the North’s nuclear menace that has haunted the region and the world for the long 25 years.
Officially ending the Korean War that ceased 65 years ago in a truce, and replacing the armistice agreement with a peace treaty signed and supported by the two Koreas and neighboring powers would also put an end to the specter of another war on the peninsula.
Those goals will never come easy, however. We would not have had to live with fears of a war and a nuclear strike by the North for such a long period of time had its solution been so easy. Remember what we and the international community had gone through during the dynastic reigns of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s grandfather and father.
As some optimists already try to pop up the campaign -- some talk about Nobel Peace Prize for Trump -- a senior US lawmaker gave a timely warning.
Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas who heads House Armed Services Committee, said that the North has a history of manipulating world opinion and that he was skeptical of the likelihood the North will give up all of its nuclear weapons, fuel and missiles in negotiations with the US.
The voices within the Trump administration are also growing tougher. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton now publicly say that denuclearization of the North should be “permanent.” Officials also indicated that they would push for removal of not only nuclear warheads but also all kinds of missiles and biochemical weapons kept by the North.
This tough position certainly contrasts with the hitherto known position of the Pyongyang government. What Kim has publicly said about denuclearization is only “gradual” drawdown, which could come in conflict with the US now pursing permanent, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program.
Despite the greater-than-expected openness and willingness to negotiate which Kim exhibited in his talks with Moon, it has yet to be seen whether he would follow in the footsteps of his forefathers to only buy the time or sincerely take on the path to complete denuclearization.
That’s why South Korea, the US and the international community ought to remain wary about the North’s next moves. Denuclearizing the North in international terms would be a very arduous work.