With the US and North Korea’s follow-up talks on denuclearization showing little progress, South Korea is left with the tough task of keeping up the momentum of dialogue and persuading both sides to meet each other halfway.
Less than six weeks after the summit between the US and North Korea in Singapore, Washington is reportedly growing impatient with the pace of talks on denuclearization, while Pyongyang has accused Washington of making “gangster-like, unilateral demands.”
North Korea has stepped up criticism of South Korea for dragging its feet on implementing the agreement reached by the leaders of the Koreas at the April 27 summit. It also slammed Seoul for failing to make sufficient efforts to persuade the US to formally declare an end to the Korean War, calling for a more “active” role by South Korea.
“Given that the South Korean government also has an obligation to carry out what was agreed upon in the Panmunjom Declaration, it should not sit idle on the issue of declaring an end to the war,” Uriminzokkiri, the North’s English-language propaganda website, said Monday.
US President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has privately fumed at aides even as he publicly tweets about how well negotiations with North Korea are going, and has been asking for daily updates on the status of negotiations, the Washington Post reported. North Korean officials have canceled follow-up meetings and have not dismantled a missile testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed, according to the report.
The issue of declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War appears to be one of the major issues holding back talks between North Korea and the US.
North Korea has demanded the US, one of the signatories to the armistice, agree to declare a formal end to the war, which it views as the first step toward guaranteeing its regime security and building lasting peace on the peninsula.
If the US is unwilling to replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty that would ensure the survival of the Kim Jong-un regime, Pyongyang will likely not proceed further with denuclearization talks, CNN reported, citing an official with close knowledge of North Korea’s position on the matter.
North Korea is also putting pressure on the US to begin lifting sanctions, believing it has done “so much” by freezing nuclear and missile testing, destroying one of its nuclear sites, and facilitating the upcoming repatriation of US service members’ war remains, according to the report.
The Trump administration appears to be reluctant to ease sanctions or declare an end to the war until the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization amid a lack of progress on North Korea’s dismantling of nuclear weapons programs and growing skepticism in the US over the North’s sincerity.
As part of efforts to propel follow-up negotiations, South Korea sent its presidential security adviser Chung Eui-yong and top diplomat Kang Kyung-wha to the US last week. Chung and Kang met with their counterparts -- national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, respectively.
When asked whether the leaders of the two Koreas and the US would seek to declare an end to the war during their possible meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, Kang said Monday that it is difficult to talk about exactly when that would happen.
As the US and North Korea still remain far apart on what should come first, South Korea should focus on convincing North Korea to take tangible steps to denuclearize to move forward the momentum of dialogue, experts say.
“The vicious cycle of the past is repeating itself in that North Korea is making excuses not to take tangible steps to denuclearize and dragging out negotiations,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Seoul appears to be persuading Washington to accept Pyongyang’s demand for declaring an end to the war to further proceed with denuclearization talks, but it carries a risk of creating a crack in the Seoul-Washington alliance, he said.
“Rather than only focusing on persuading the US to accept the North’s demand, the South Korean government should also convince North Korea to take visible steps to denuclearize -- such as declaring its nuclear arsenal.”
More realistically, South Korea could persuade both North Korea and the US to take action simultaneously -- the approach suggested by the North.
“As North Korea and the US ask each other to take action first, what South Korea could do is lead them to take action simultaneously at their discretion,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. “I think that the US could declare an end to the Korean War, and North Korea could declare its nuclear weapons program and facilities.”
“I think it is the US that would pull out of negotiations, not North Korea. I think it is important to convince North Korea to take measures to dismantle its nuclear weapons program under the current circumstances.”