By Prof. Bo-hyuk Suh
Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification
President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to visit the United States on April 10-11, 2019 for a summit meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington D.C. at the invitation of the U.S. President. Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Communication Yoon Do Han told reporters at Cheong Wa Dae on March 29, 2019: “The two Presidents will discuss in depth ways to further strengthen the alliance of the two countries and to seek ways for increased cooperation for the construction of a peace system on the Korean peninsula through complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” At this juncture, a timely and interesting article was written by Prof. Bo-hyuk Suh at the Korea Institute for National Unification.—Ed.
After the summit meeting between President Donald Trump of the United States and Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea in Hanoi on 27-28, 2019, the peace process on the Korean peninsula appears to be somewhat faltering.
After the U.S.-N.K summit meeting (translated ‘N.K-U.S.’ in Korean), which ended even without adopting a joint communicate, Pyongyang and Washington entered into a stage of ‘taking a breather.’ Each side appears to be internally trying to analyze the position of the other. At the same time, externally they are repeating the exposition of their position.
The U.S. says there will no corresponding reward to North Korea unless the North comes up with a complete, comprehensive denuclearization. In contrast, North Korea wants to seek denuclearization through a step-by-step approach. And between these two positions stands South Korea.
Leaving Hanoi, President Trump asked President Moon to perform the role of an arbitrator.
The ROK-U.S. summit meeting in Washington D.C. on April 11, 2019 should prove a very important occasion which would present a new momentum to re-kindle the peace negotiation for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The Hanoi summit meeting, which ended even without agreeing to make a joint communiqué, left much to be desired. However, the two leaders confirmed the existence of faith in each other, and have been trying not to adversely affect the good atmosphere between them. Hence, it could be said that they are maintaining the basic conditions for the resumption of their talks.
All the same, it appears that a third U.S.-N.K. summit has a very slim chance of materialization within the next few months without due efforts made to reduce the outstanding gaps between the two sides.
At this juncture, there is an opinion that on condition of sharing the same approach between the ROK and the U.S. a two-stage approach could be used in correspondence to the denuclearization step taken by North Korea. For this purpose the ROK and the U.S. should try to perform the following:
(1) The ROK and the U.S. agree that a third method to solve the N.K. nuclear problem is needed.
(2) The ROK and the U.S. should try to persuade N.K. of the existence of possibility of success of the solution.
(3) The U.S. and N.K. should appoint their working-level officials to prepare a comprehensive, step-by-step concrete method of approach.
(4) The U.S. and N.K. should try to have a third formal bilateral summit meeting.
(5) The U.S. and N.K. should carry into practice the agreements reached at the above U.S.-N.K. talks.
As the first step to carry out the above method, North Korea could abolish the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and submit a report on its denuclearization program. In response to this development, the U.S. and the international community could ease their restrictions on North Korea—beginning with non-military goods.
If the Presidents of the ROK and the U.S. should fail to show an alternative solution, the prospect of chances for denuclearization of N.K. would become dimmer.
North Korea, while continuously possessing highly developed nuclear capabilities, would try to minimize the impact of restrictions through cooperation with China and Russia.
This could exert an unfavorable impact on the prospect of improved relations between the ROK and N.K.
This is why the upcoming summit meeting between the ROK and the U.S. is very, very important.
In a little over one year since North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in the ROK on Feb. 9-25, 2018, there have been two salient successes as a result.
One of them is the trust created through the repeated summits between the two leaders of Korea, President Moon Jae-in of the South and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the North. The other is the common recognition among the leaders of the ROK, N.K., the U.S. and China concerning the importance of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, establishment of a peace system and development of relations between the ROK and N.K. and between the U.S. and N.K.
However, it was proven at the Hanoi U.S.-N.K. summit meeting that both sides had not had sufficient discussions or preparations concerning the direction or method of implementation of the items of their recognition.
Building of mutual trust and creation of a reasonable avenue to reach the final destination of mutual agreement would be the starting point of the second-stage peace process for the Korean peninsula.
And this will start at Washington.