The Korea Herald


Special envoys’ NK visit fails to overcome stumbling blocks in denuclearization talks

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Sept. 6, 2018 - 15:18

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Despite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s renewed vows to denuclearize, experts say the latest meeting between Kim and South Korea’s special envoys failed to provide a breakthrough in the current stalemate in the nuclear negotiations.

According to Chung Eui-yong, who led a five-member delegation to Pyongyang on Wednesday, Kim reaffirmed his commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while expressing his willingness to maintain cooperation with South Korea and the US.

“Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and expressed his willingness to closely cooperate with not only South Korea but also the United States to that end,” the head of the presidential National Security Office said in a press conference held a day after his trip to the North. 

Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office (left) talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) in Pyongyang on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Chung Eui-yong, head of the presidential National Security Office (left) talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) in Pyongyang on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The trip, which was largely aimed at setting a specific date for what would be the third summit between Moon and Kim, was also expected to provide a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. The progress in talks has become increasingly stagnant following US President Donald Trump’s decision last month to “postpone” a scheduled North Korea trip by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing a lack of progress in the North’s denuclearization process.

Though North Korea’s reiteration of its vows may seem promising, critics say the trip failed to bring tangible results that could quicken the pace of nuclear talks.

“The trip has failed to draw fresh ‘added value’ which could move forward the stalled denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“It only fueled concerns that North Korea is adamantly refusing to comply with the US demand to take verifiable denuclearization steps such as declaring a full list of its nuclear and missile stockpiles.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kim highlighted the pre-emptive measures the North has already taken -- including dismantling its Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site and a missile engine facility -- and said Pyongyang will take more active steps towards denuclearization if the US reciprocates the measures, Chung said.

“North Korea is asking the US to take the necessary steps first if it wants to see progress in talks,” Kim Joon-hyung, an international studies professor at Handong Global University said.

But the expert also noted that it would have been difficult for Chung to propose that North declare its full nuclear program as denuclearization is mainly an issue between Washington and Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, Chung’s visit has also set a new deadline for the opening of a joint liaison office in the North’s border town of Kaesong. The launch of the office was initially scheduled for the end of August, but was indefinitely delayed on concerns of sanctions violations that came with stalemate in talks.

At the meeting, the two countries agreed to open the office before the third Moon-Kim summit, which is scheduled to be held between Sept. 18 and 20, according to Chung.

“The opening of the liaison office depends on the mood of the US-North Korea cooperation, so they would need to check the details in line with the sanctions against Pyongyang,” Shin said.

By Jung Min-kyung (