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Seoul to be ‘flexible’ on timing, format of declaring end to Korean War

South Korea aims to declare an end to the Korean War this year, but will be flexible when it comes to the specific timing and format, Seoul’s top diplomat said Monday.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks at a news conference in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks at a news conference in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

“Declaration of the end to the Korean War is a result we should draw through consultation with the US and North Korea. But the government plans to handle the issue of timing and format flexibly,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a press conference.

Underscoring the importance of China’s role in building a peace regime on the peninsula, Kang said Seoul is consulting Beijing, too.

Kang’s remarks came amid growing speculations that declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War could take place as early as July 27, the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice. Declaring an end to the war is widely seen as the first step by the US to guaranteeing the security of the North Korean regime.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to declare a formal end to the war this year during the inter-Korean summit in April. US President Donald Trump also said the war could soon end at a press conference following his meeting with Kim in Singapore earlier this month.

Having spoken to reporters after talking to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the phone, Seoul’s top diplomat also said Pompeo plans to meet with North Korean counterparts in the near future and push for follow-up negotiations on the Singapore summit deal at a speedy pace.

During Monday morning’s phone call, Kang and Pompeo shared the results of inter-Korean military talks and Pompeo’s recent visit to Beijing, as well as Washington’s preparations for the upcoming high-level talks with Pyongyang.

The US has yet to take specific measures to establish a hotline with North Korea, Kang quoted Pompeo as saying. Trump said in an interview last week that he had given his direct phone number to Kim and he might call him Sunday.

Kang stressed that there is no daylight in coordination between South Korea and the US.

With regards to South Korea-US joint military exercises, she said there is no change at all in the allies’ stance that the combined drills are “defensive” and “legitimate” in nature.

President Trump’s use of the term “provocative” “could be interpreted as having repeated the term used by Chairman Kim Jong-un as he had just finished his conversation with Kim,” Kang commented. 

Trump described the drills as “provocative” and “expensive” at the post-summit press conference, announcing a plan to halt South Korea-US joint military exercises while talks with North Korea are underway “in good faith.”

The allies’ combined military exercises have been a centerpiece of the South Korea-US security alliance and a show of force to deter North Korea’s aggressions. Pyongyang has denounced them as a rehearsal for war.

“For us, there is no change at all in our stance that South Korea-US joint military exercises are defensive in nature and legitimate in response to North Korea’s illegal development of nuclear and missile programs and provocations,” she said, adding the decision on whether to halt the joint exercises will be announced soon. 

Kang also said that North Korea’s denuclearization will clearly involve a verification process and sanctions will remain in place until Pyongyang takes tangible steps to denuclearize.