The retired admiral stressed that the US and North Korea have only begun “the process” to achieve the goal of the “final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and it would take diplomacy and negotiations to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
“With regard to the end of war declaration, I think it’s in early days yet, it’s too early for that even as we seek improvement in relations between the North and the South and between the North and the US,” Harris said at a lecture organized by the Korea National Diplomatic Academy on the South Korea-US alliance.
His remarks come as the US and North Korea face a deadlock in negotiations to follow up on their leaders’ pledges at the June 12 summit in Singapore. At the summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and US President Donald Trump promised to provide a security guarantee for the North Korean regime.
The issue of declaring an end to the Korean War appears to be one of the major stumbling blocks. North Korea demands that the US declare the war over first before advancing denuclearization talks, while the US maintains that the declaration can come only after the North takes concrete steps to denuclearize.
Amid a lack of progress on denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea, South and North Korea held high-level talks Monday. They agreed to hold the third inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in September, when the leaders are expected to discuss ways to end the Korean War within the year.
South Korea is pushing to declare an end to the war this year, as agreed at the April 27 inter-Korean summit, viewing it as a step to build trust and accelerate denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea.
“We’ll at time play out a little bit, see how the talks between the North and South today go, and then see what the future holds,” Harris said, noting President Moon Jae-in’s remarks that the improvement in relations between North and South Korea cannot advance separately from the nuclear issue.
“We’ve just begun the process so it’s early days yet,” he said. “But I do believe that this is worth the effort and the United States and our allies, especially us and the Republic of Korea, we have the same goal, that’s the final, fully verified denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Calling the Singapore summit the “starting point,” Harris reiterated Trump’s belief in the North Korean leader’s commitment to denuclearization and the communist state’s potential to lift itself out of poverty and have a brighter future should Kim fulfill his commitment.
“Sanctions will remain in place until North Korea takes concrete and verifiable steps toward denuclearization,” he said. “Our two nations are committed to choosing the right deal, not just any deal.”
Harris assumed his post in Seoul in July. He previously served as the head of the US Pacific Command.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)