The Korea Herald


Denuclearization talks should go in steps, says former US Deputy Secretary of State

By Jo He-rim

Published : April 23, 2019 - 18:54

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Amid the ongoing standoff between the United States and North Korea over denuclearization, going through the right process is important, former US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said in Seoul on Tuesday.

At a press conference held as part of the 2019 Asan Plenum, Steinberg said he does not think of the recent Hanoi summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a “failure,” stressing the complexity of the issue. Rather, the summit was part of the process of resolving the issue, and raised understanding for both sides, he said.

James Steinberg (Yonhap) James Steinberg (Yonhap)

“It is important to have processes, even if it does not achieve complete denuclearization,” he said, adding that is why verification of denuclearization would have to be tied very closely to the specific commitments.

“I think the Trump administration has come to understand the complexity of the issues and why it has been the case that his predecessors, despite best efforts, have not succeeded in achieving the goals that we all have subscribed to -- which is the denuclearization of North Korea,” Steinberg said.

“While the North appears to have hoped that somehow Trump will deliver what they want at no cost, it has been proven unsuccessful and they’ll need to go back to the hard work, practical and step-by-step effort to begin to reverse its faults,” he added.

The second US-North Korea summit, held in late February in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without an agreement due to differences on the scope of denuclearization and the lifting of sanctions.

On Kim’s first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Steinberg said it was not surprising that the North would want to find an alternative way to ramp up pressure on the US.

“They would also want to escape from the pressure that comes from the continued sanctions, which I believe had significant effect,” he said. “Given the deterioration of the Russia-US relations, I think Kim suspects that he may be able to find some comfort in Moscow and perhaps relieve economic difficulties.”

While there are limits to how much Russia can give North Korea, Russia will probably still welcome the move, as it can use the summit as a simple reminder that Russia is also a player in the denuclearization talks.

Steinberg said the North’s summit with Putin and its recent announcement of a new “tactical weapon with a powerful warhead” were part of a series of actions showing its efforts to get the US to re-engage in the talks.

In his keynote address, which opened the two-day Asan Forum, Steinberg also spoke of the difficulties South Korea may face in the wake of the deteriorating relations between the US and China. To overcome them, he said South Korea must leverage its relationship with both China and the United States.

“Vis-a-vis China, South Korea must make clear that bullying and intimidation will be met with resistance and resolve,” he said. “In the spirit of our long-standing friendship (with the US), Korean leaders must encourage the US to keep open the path to constructive cooperation with China, so long as China lives up to its rhetorical commitments to respect the sovereignty and independence of its neighbors and uphold the international rule of law.

“I also hope for the cross-coordination between the US and South Korea, as well as other parties that are engaging, including Japan, because a successful resolution of this issue requires all to work together with shared objectives in mind,” he said.

By Jo He-rim (