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Editorial: Amid thaw in ties, Seoul must stay firm on a nuke-free North

North Korea’s diplomatic offensive using the Winter Olympics to bring about a thaw in its chilly relations with the South culminated in a call for a meeting between the leaders of the two countries.

In considering responses to the overture, the parties concerned must not forget the ultimate goal of putting a permanent end to tensions in the Korean Peninsula and ensuring that Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear ambitions once and for all.

The North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who traveled to South Korea as the most prominent member of the delegation, conveyed her brother’s message to Moon.

While declining to immediately accept it, Moon reportedly said, “Let us make it happen by creating the necessary conditions in the future.”

The aim of North Korea’s efforts for reconciliation amid its deepening international isolation is obvious.

The Kim regime clearly wants to lure South Korea away from the United States, which maintains a tough stance toward Pyongyang, with an eye to loosening the noose of international sanctions being tightened around its neck.

From this point of view, Moon gave the right response when he told Kim Yo Jong that an early start of dialogue between North Korea and the United States was vital for improving inter-Korean relations.

Seoul should work closely with both Washington and Tokyo in deciding how it should respond to North Korea’s diplomatic gambit.

Whatever Pyongyang’s aim may be, there should be, in principle, direct talks between the leaders of the two Koreas.

It is desirable for the peoples of the same race to make efforts toward reconciliation and changes in the fundamental structure of confrontation in the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean’s sense of brotherhood toward North Korea has waned over time as its northern rival has continued military provocations and remained mired in economic stagnation.

But there is a strong desire to see expansion of inter-Korean exchanges among South Koreans.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea between North and South.

South Korea should take the opportunity offered by Pyongyang’s entreaty to convey the seriousness of international concerns about its arms programs.

As Moon has acknowledged, South Korea needs to tread carefully and think deeply in its efforts to create an appropriate environment for his visit to the North.

In addition to securing close coordination with the United States and other countries concerned, Seoul should also avoid any move that could undermine the effectiveness of the international sanctions based on U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Moon should revisit the bitter lessons from the inter-Korean summit in 2007 between then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. As a senior official of the Roh administration, Moon worked hard to realize the meeting in Pyongyang.

In a rush to improve ties between the two Koreas, the Roh administration agreed to provide excessive economic aid to the North, provoking a backlash even from the South Korean public.

More importantly, the summit failed to produce any positive long-term result.

The situation in the Korean Peninsula is now radically different from that time, with North Korea claiming to possess nuclear weapons.

Moon has repeatedly stressed the need to ensure that inter-Korean dialogue will lead to talks between the United States and North Korea because he recognizes that a true solution to the threat of North Korea’s arms programs could be accomplished only through direct negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Moon should try to convince Kim Jong Un that it is in his country’s best interest to scrap its nuclear program while keeping international sanctions intact.

Moon should also do more to expand the scope of his diplomatic efforts to create momentum for North Korea’s talks with the United States and Japan.

The situation surrounding North Korea is on the brink of triggering a large-scale military conflict.

As the president of a country directly involved in the situation, Moon has a pivotal role to play in defusing the crisis.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11

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