[Newsmaker] Cooperative threat reduction a creative method to resume US-North Korea denuke talks: unification minister nominee

By Kim Bo-gyung

Kim Yeon-chul says he is reflecting on the language he used when discussing politically sensitive incidents

  • Published : Mar 26, 2019 - 16:08
  • Updated : Mar 26, 2019 - 17:40

Unification Minister nominee Kim Yeon-chul said Tuesday that reintroducing the Cooperative Threat Reduction program for the US and North Korea could hasten the resumption of stalled denuclearization talks.

“A creative solution is one that the US and North Korea can agree to. During my tenure as the head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, I proposed adopting the Cooperative Threat Reduction program for Yongbyon. Including this, I will look for as many different ways as possible,” said Kim during his confirmation hearing before the National Assembly foreign affairs and unification committee. 

South Korea’s Unification Minister nominee Kim Yeon-chul answers questions during the heated National Assembly foreign affairs and unification committee’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

He added ahead of the first US-North Korea summit, President Donald Trump listened to his opinion about adopting a CTR program for North Korea.

The original CTR program was adopted by the US with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through steady exchanges of economic incentives with nuclear-armed countries.

“Discussions of a snapback in relation to sanctions during the Hanoi summit are worth taking note of,” Kim said, adding that he believes the US should first reach a consensus on a snapback.

Kim said South Korea and the US stand by the goal of accomplishing the denuclearization of North Korea as swiftly as possible, and that additional discussions about the process are needed.

On the issue of how to define denuclearization, Kim noted that South Korea, North Korea and the US agreed on a definition -- the abolition of all nuclear programs -- in the 1992 Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the September 2005 Joint Statement.

Clarifying, Kim said a moratorium on missile tests cannot be considered a move for denuclearization and called for “wisdom to begin practical denuclearization.”

The North Korea expert and former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification is under pressure for having made inflammatory remarks on sensitive political issues, both on social media and in his books.

Mindful of the controversy, Kim started the confirmation hearing by saying, “I deeply apologize to those who have been hurt. ... I am deeply self-reflecting on the inappropriate expressions used.”

Main opposition Liberty Korea Party lawmakers took a swipe at two things Kim said. First, they brought up comments he made on multiple occasions questioning the cause of the 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. They also pointed to a book by Kim, published last year, in which he referred to the 2008 death of South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja at Kumgangsan as a “rite of passage.”

Defending his remarks on the Cheonan, Kim said he believed the government findings that the naval vessel was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, and that the purpose of his questions was to emphasize the government’s responsibility to answer doubts raised by citizens.

Regarding his comments concerning Park Wang-ja, who was shot dead by a North Korean soldier, Kim said he had consistently insisted on an apology from the North right from the beginning, as well as an investigation and steps to prevent a recurrence. The phrase “rite of passage” referred to political and cultural conflicts in inter-Korean relations, he said, not to the killing of Park.

Ruling party lawmakers made determined efforts to defend Kim against strong objections from the opposition.

Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party described Kim as a “free spirit” and said the Unification Minister is tasked with “persuading North Korea based on trust, unlike the Defense Minister.”

By Kim Bo-gyung (