The third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un broke new ground in inter-Korean ties, experts said, giving South Korea an opportunity to move beyond its role as a “mediator” in the US-North Korea nuclear talks.
The South’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said the Seoul government would now be able to take on a more “active role” based on the “meaningful” results of the inter-Korean summit.
“(The summit agreement) has provided a foundation for both Koreas and the US to discuss the denuclearization issue in depth, together,” Lee Do-hoon, the Foreign Ministry’s representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, said at a press center in Seoul.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) during a luncheon held in Pyongyang on Wednesday. (KCNA)
“(South Korea) has so far played a role in laying (a) foundation and (building) bridges for North Korea’s denuclearization, but we will now be able to play a more active role if necessary,” he added.
A Foreign Ministry official told reporters, under customary condition of anonymity, that North Korea’s willingness to put denuclearization on the inter-Korean summit agenda -- a shift from its earlier position -- was a key sign that the South could tackle a “bigger role” in the ongoing talks.
Previously, Pyongyang had refused to discuss the nuclear issue with Seoul, saying the issue concerned only Washington.
The recent change is a sign that North Korea has accepted South Korea as a key player in the denuclearization talks, analysts said.
“The agreement reached in Pyongyang states that the two Koreas will cooperate to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said.
“South Korea is a valuable player for both North Korea and the US because it is able to create an effective momentum in the denuclearization talks, when progress hits a stalemate.”
Hong said Moon’s meeting with US President Donald Trump next week, in New York City on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, is likely to be an opportunity for Moon to deliver additional messages from Kim to Trump, which may lead to a breakthrough in the stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
Despite what Seoul considers positive signs, critics remain skeptical on whether Seoul will be able to take a more prominent seat at the denuclearization table.
Noting that the US had asked Pyongyang to talk to Stephen Biegun, US special representative for North Korea, in Vienna, Austria, Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said, “Washington is telling the North to come with a more specific plan on the nuclear inspection the North mentioned. For President Moon, his role, as a ‘facilitator,’ would be to convince US President Trump to be more willing to talk with Pyongyang.”
Following the news of the agreement between the two Koreas, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was prepared to “immediately” engage in talks with North Korea. Washington invited North Korean officials to meet Biegun, tasked with leading the negotiations with Pyongyang, in Vienna “at the earliest opportunity” to implement an agreement reached by US President Donald Trump and Kim at their summit in June, according to Pompeo.
During the latest inter-Korean summit, the North Korean leader agreed to dismantle a key long-range missile engine test site and launch pad in the presence of international inspectors and possibly shut down the main Yongbyon nuclear compound should the US take “corresponding measures.”
During his first speech to the North Korean people at the closing of the Mass Games late Wednesday, Moon stressed the principle of “national independence,” which experts saw as a sign of a strengthened inter-Korean bond.
By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com