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[Editorial] Keep on track

Focus on missiles rather than on nukes raises concern, with US-NK summit slated for late Feb.

The White House has announced US President Donald Trump will hold his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. The Trump administration said it would announce a location at a later date.

No signal has come from either side yet that they have narrowed the gap between their demands -- the North’s implementation of denuclearization and the US’ relief of sanctions against the North.

Experts in the US are very skeptical that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, Washington agreed to hold its second summit with Pyongyang. This causes concern that the Trump administration may have stepped back from its existing position in order to hold dialogue.

Formally the White House has reaffirmed the principle of its negotiations with Pyongyang that denuclearization must precede sanctions relief. But recent remarks from Washington that put priority on the safety of American people causes worries that the US government’s objective in its negotiations with the North may have changed.

Trump pledged to protect America from any enemy missile on Thursday when Kim Yong-chol, Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man and North Korea’s lead negotiator with the US, arrived in Washington to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. North Korea was deemed “extraordinary threat” in the 2019 Missile Defense Review. Trump announced plans for a huge expansion of US missile defense.

Brad Sherman, incoming head of the US House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said on the Voice of America on Friday that rather than seeking North Korea’s denuclearization, it would be more realistic to freeze the North’s missile-related programs and allow Pyongyang to possess a limited amount of nuclear weapons on the condition of being subject to close surveillance.

Pompeo told Fox News on Jan. 11 that the final objective of US-North Korea negotiations is “the security of the American people.”

Bruce Klinger, senior research fellow of Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said that Pompeo’s remark raised concerns that the US might be willing to accept an agreement that only addresses the North Korean missile threat to the US.

Cheong Wa Dae said the South Korean government will cooperate with related countries on the basis of close US-Korea cooperation.

However, it is questionable if the US-Korea cooperation is as close as ever.

The Moon Jae-in administration gives the impression that it puts top priority on the inter-Korean relationship.

The failure to agree on a new cost-sharing deal for US service members stationed in South Korea has raised fears that Trump may threaten to draw down forces here, according to Stars & Stripes.

Trump announced the suspension of joint military exercises on the peninsula without consulting with South Korea and his own aides after his first summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12.

There is no assurance that he will not make unilateral announcements in the second summit as he did in the first one.

The Moon administration does not appear to be on good terms with the Japanese government over the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling for those Koreans forced into labor at Japanese companies during World War II and Japan’s claims that a South Korean ship’s radar locked onto a Japanese patrol plane.

The Moon administration must make diplomatic efforts to strengthen the trilateral cooperation.

In the second summit with the US, North Korea is expected to show a bargaining card far short of complete denuclearization, for example, demolition of Yongbyon nuclear facilities and dismantling of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and demand big concessions from the US.

The US may well regard its own security as the most important goal, but for South Koreans, the denuclearization of North Korea is a matter of survival, and much more important than the dismantlement of ICBMs.

A Trump-Kim deal to dismantle North Korean ICBMs but acknowledge its existing nuclear arsenal will be the worst scenario for South Koreans.

If the second US-North Korea summit ends up this way, denuclearization will likely be off the table.

The principle of complete denuclearization of North Korea must not be shaken in any eventuality.