NATIONAL

[News Focus] NK-Russia summit casts doubt on ‘top-down’ approach denuclearization talks

By Choi He-suk
  • Published : Apr 28, 2019 - 17:42
  • Updated : Apr 28, 2019 - 17:42

The first anniversary of President Moon Jae-in’s initial meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has come and gone, as Seoul faces increasingly complex conditions in dealing with the North.

Inter-Korean relations have seen little improvement in recent months, and US-North Korea denuclearization talks have stalled since the failure of the Hanoi summit in February.

At the Hanoi event -- Kim’s second meeting with US President Donald Trump -- no agreement was reached, and the two sides have since accused the other of making unrealistic demands. The North has taken to attacking top US officials, while seeking stronger ties with China and Russia in an apparent attempt to gain more leverage in dealing with Seoul and Washington.

On Thursday, Kim held his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit Saturday during which Putin briefed Xi on his meeting with Kim and the two discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to Russian news reports.

“Russia and China share the same plan for resolving the Korean Peninsula issues,” Putin was quoted as saying in Russian news reports. The Russian president also said that the first stage of the plans has seen some progress and that the second stage should now begin.

Saying that the Korean War should be officially ended, Putin also said that the matter should move in the direction of providing security guarantees satisfactory to the North.

“(In the summit with Xi) no new plans were discussed, and such measures are unnecessary at this stage,” Putin said, implying that Beijing and Moscow will adhere to the previously agreed plans.

China and Russia’s plan involves three stages. In the first, Seoul and Washington scale down military exercises in return for the North halting nuclear and missile tests. The second stage involves normalization of the North’s relations with the South and the US. And in the final stage regional security and North Korea’s denuclearization is discussed in a multilateral platform.

Following his meeting with Kim, the Russian president made more specific comments, raising the possibility of reviving six-party talks.

“If South Korea and the US can offer sufficient measures for (North Korea’s security) guarantee, the six-party talks may not be operated. But the guarantee mechanism from the South and the US does not seem to be sufficient,” he said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands Thursday in Vladivostok in a photo released by North Korean state media. (Yonhap)

“I think there needs to be a multilateral security regime for the North.”

The six-party talks were in operation between 2003 and 2008, with assistant deputy minister-level officials of the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan serving as top negotiators. Although 12 meetings were held, and some agreements were reached, the six-party talks ultimately failed to bring about North Korea’s denuclearization.

Putin’s comments echo Kim’s New Year speech, in which he said that he would be forced to seek a “new way” in defending the country’s sovereignty, and suggested a multilateral mechanism.

For North Korea, Thursday’s summit highlighted its ties to Russia, and provided an opportunity to pressure Seoul and Washington.

After the summit, Kim said he and Putin held “meaningful conversation on issues related to guaranteeing peace and security of the region, and shared international problems.”

The North Korean leader also stressed the importance of Pyongyang-Moscow relations, as he has done concerning his country’s ties to Beijing since last year.

“My firm and unchanging position and strategic policy is to ceaselessly strengthen the traditional and strategic North Korea-Russia relations from a new level to meet the demands of the new century,” Kim said.

According to North Korean state media, Kim also said the Hanoi summit fell apart due to the US acting in “bad faith,” and claimed the future of the Korean Peninsula now depends on actions taken by the US.

For Seoul, the developments of last week will likely complicate calculations.

The six-party talks being resumed would put the brakes on the top-down approach Moon favors for US-North Korea dialogue, and for mediating between the two countries.

Following his recent meeting with Trump, Moon said he and the US president share the view that top-down approach is “essential to the peace process for the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon is also reported to have a message from Trump to the North Korean leader, which he plans to deliver in person to Kim.

By Choi Hee-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)