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S. Korea must play ‘facilitating role’ for US-NK talks: presidential adviser Moon

South Korea should play a more active role in facilitating negotiations between the US and North Korea amid concerns over the two countries’ apparent difference over the denuclearization process, Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to President Moon Jae-in, said Monday.

Moon Chung-in, a Yonsei University professor, said while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang exposed a gap over how to resolve a nuclear standoff, both countries can address the issue their leaders reached an agreement on during their first-ever summit in Singapore.

The presidential adviser said such a standoff put Moon Jae-in in a critical position, calling for the president to move beyond the role of a meditator and toward the job of “facilitating” the denuclearization talks.

“While there might be some progress in part, the meeting shows stark difference between the US and North Korea over how to resolve North Korea’s nuclear standoff,” presidential adviser Moon said during the interview with local broadcaster CBS. 

“But such rhetoric does not mean the end of the relationship between the US and North Korea. Both parties are obligated to observe the agreement between the two countries and I think we should pin our hopes for that.”

Presidential special advisor Moon Chung-in. Yonhap
Presidential special advisor Moon Chung-in. Yonhap

Moon Chung-in’s remarks come amid concerns that the US and North Korea have made little progress in the denuclearization process, with the two countries offering a different assessment of Pompeo’s much-anticipated trip to North Korea. 

While the top US diplomat described the meeting as “productive,” North Korea later said that US negotiators’ approach was “utterly regretful” in making “gangster-like” unilateral demand for denuclearization. 

Moon said the difference lies in the detailed timeline over the denuclearization process. While Washington wants to see Pyongyang abandon its nuclear ambitions first, North Korea is calling for “phased, simultaneous actions” to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“From North Korea’s point of view, it is nothing but a demand for unilateral disarmament and they will never accept it. Washington, however, said they can't talk about establishing a peace regime without North Korea’s specific progress on denuclearization.”

Moon expected that the denuclearization process of North Korea is going to be the toughest procedure yet, as the communist country will undergo thorough declaration and verification of its nuclear arsenal.

While the ideal model of an initial step for denuclearization is removing North Korea’s nuclear weapons out of the country, the process will occur only after Pyongyang made a thorough declaration of its nuclear program and have it fully verified by outside inspectors.

Only then can the Trump administration consider lifting economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, Moon Chung-in predicted. In the meantime, South Korea should have “patience” until the arduous verification process ends, he said.

“The verification process will be very tough… Once we determined the subject of verification, we should check out whether nuclear weapons were fully removed or not… Given the complexity of the process, we should have patience,” said Moon Chung-in.