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Unification Minister says Korea-US summit could be ‘watershed’ moment on the peninsula

Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks at a seminar, organized by the Korea Institute for National Unification, Korea National Diplomatic Academy and Institute for National Security Strategy, held in Seoul on Thursday. (KINU)
Unification Minister Lee In-young speaks at a seminar, organized by the Korea Institute for National Unification, Korea National Diplomatic Academy and Institute for National Security Strategy, held in Seoul on Thursday. (KINU)

Unification Minister Lee In-young on Thursday pinned his hopes on the upcoming South Korea-US summit as a “watershed” moment that could make progress in the stalled diplomacy with North Korea, and urged Pyongyang to return to the dialogue. 

Speaking at a seminar organized by the state-run think tanks, the minister “positively” assessed the Biden administration’s recently completed North Korea policy, which he said was a result of close coordination and consultations with Seoul. 

“On that note, the scheduled Korea-US summit on May 21 could serve as a big watershed moment,” Lee said. “On the occasion of the upcoming summit, we hope the North will return to the negotiation table to seek realistic and detailed solutions. And we will do our best to use this occasion to push for an early resumption of North Korea-US talks,” he said. 

President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden are set to meet in Washington next Friday for their first face-to-face talks since Biden’s inauguration. With the US just completed its monthslong policy review on North Korea, the allies are expected to discuss how to deal with the reclusive regime going forward. 

The details to the review are still under wraps, but the US said it will seek a “calibrated” and “practical” approach toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a goal, hinting a middle ground between Trump’s top-down “grand bargain” approach and Obama’s “strategic patience.”

Lee said that Washington’s emphasis on tackling the North Korean issue through diplomacy and “calibrated” and “practical” approach, aligns with the South Korean government’s position that the US and North Korea should move in “gradual and phased” steps toward peace, exchanging concessions and incentives along the way. 

At the conference, other speakers also expressed similar anticipation with the US’ new direction, that it could result into some progress in the stalled nuclear diplomacy with the reclusive regime. The US-North Korea denuclearization talks came to a deadlock since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in February 2019, and so did inter-Korean talks. 

“The Biden administration is underlining a diplomatic solution, while not putting military means and sanctions at the fore,” said Koh Yu-hwan, president of KINU. “If the Biden administration upholds the Singapore Agreement and seek phased, practical approach, there is a possibility that North Korea could respond.”

Meanwhile, Lee Jong-seok, former Unification Minister, stressed not provoking North Korea and managing risk at a time when Pyongyang is examining Washington’s policy review on its country. 

He also added that as Pyongyang will also be closely watching next week’s summit in Washington, and what kind of messages Biden and Moon will give in regards to dealing with the North. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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