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Foreign minister still hopeful on North Korea

Chung Eui-yong says Seoul will push for combined approach with Pyongyang in interview with PBS Newshour

Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong speaks in an interview with PBS. (PBS)
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong speaks in an interview with PBS. (PBS)
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong continued to be hopeful on North Korea, but failed to give details or reasons when pressed on the issue in a US media interview on Thursday, a day ahead of a summit between President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden in Washington DC.

“North Korea has a very unique system of governance. There is only one person who can make final decisions, which is their supreme leader Kim Jong-un. So we thought a top-down approach would be more effective. We tried it, and it didn’t work as we had expected,” Chung told PBS NewsHour.

“So this time, maybe we can have a combined approach.”

In response to a question on why he thinks this approach will be more successful than the previous ones, he said, “First of all, the US government decided to maintain continuity in the negotiations based on the progress we have made so far between the US and DPRK, and between the two Koreas,” mentioning the 2018 summit agreement between former US president Donald Trump and Kim.

Kim and Trump agreed in 2018 that both countries will work together towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but the two sides failed to reach any concrete agreements since.

When the interviewer mentioned that experts called the 2018 agreement “the weakest of all agreements signed between the US and North Korea,” and asked Chung if the agreement means that the US is held to the same limits as North Korea, Chung started talking about how a 1992 joint declaration of denuclearization signed between the two Koreas defined “complete denuclearization.” The agreement does not mention the US.

When asked whether he was encouraging Biden to meet with Kim, Chung said “if possible, yes. But it’s not time yet. I think we need to do more groundwork before top leaders meet this time. I know the US is now reaching out to North Korea, and we hope North Korea will respond to this initiative.”

In response to a question on whether the internal political pressure in South Korea that President Moon Jae-in is under was adding pressure to make something happen on the North Korean front, Chung said South Koreans now are mostly concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, and started talking about vaccines.

Moon is seeking faster shipment of US-made vaccines as his government targets to get 13 million people in South Korea inoculated by the end of June.

In their first face-to-face summit, Moon and Biden expected to discuss North Korea and US-China relations among others.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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