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Editorial: U.S.-North Korea talks needed to keep momentum toward peace

The latest meeting between the North and South Korean leaders underscored the fact that a new chapter in their bitter history has opened this year. Both Koreas are marking the 70th anniversary of their foundation.

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met on Sept. 19 in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang for their third summit in five months.

 

In their joint declaration, the two leaders pledged to take steps toward removing “the danger of war across the entire Korean Peninsula” and formally ending “military hostility in regions of confrontation.”

 

We should welcome the efforts by the two Koreas to seek reconciliation by overcoming the confrontation that has defined their history and has been described as a vestige of the Cold War.

 

Although they are two nations of the same race, there can be little hope for improved relations without true progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization.

 

Pyongyang and Seoul need to make further efforts to build on the momentum for peace and address the international community’s concerns about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

 

Kim, chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, rolled out the red carpet for Moon. During a review of troops at the airport, a top North Korean military officer called Moon “his excellency” in a loud voice.

 

On the first day of the summit, Moon was invited into the main building of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, the nerve center of the North Korean regime.

 

These facts indicate a dramatic change in North Korea’s attitude toward its southern neighbor. For decades, Pyongyang showed no interest in dealing with South Korea, calling Seoul a “puppet” of the United States.

 

The joint declaration also mentioned Kim’s visit to Seoul “at an early date” as well as “rail and road connections” between the two countries and “exchanges and cooperation in various fields.”

 

The document promises a rich variety of measures for reconciliation between the Koreas.

 

The statement also says the two sides have agreed to restart the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea and the Mount Kumgang tourism project, two symbols of bilateral economic cooperation, but with a caveat of “as conditions ripen.”

 

This suggests that South Korea is mindful of U.S. warnings against rushing to ease pressure on North Korea without any real progress concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

 

Moon has been trying to broker a peace deal between Pyongyang and Washington by leveraging the thaw in the inter-Korea relationship.

 

While the South Korean leader should be encouraged to continue his work, it should be noted that there are clear limitations to his diplomatic efforts as a “messenger.”

 

A fundamental solution to the North Korean nuclear problem requires direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

 

North Korea has promised to permanently dismantle nuclear facilities in the Yongbyon complex, the birthplace of the country’s nuclear arms program, if the United States takes “corresponding measures.”

 

The “corresponding (reciprocal) measures” apparently mean steps to guarantee the survival of the Kim regime, such as a declaration to formally end the Korean War.

 

It is unclear how U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will respond to the proposal.

 

The Pyongyang declaration does not include North Korean actions that the Trump administration has demanded, including submitting a full list of its nuclear facilities and abandoning the nuclear weapons it produced in the past.

 

North Korea’s pledge to dismantle nuclear facilities is limited in scope and unlikely to lead to an immediate breakthrough in the stalled talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

 

Both the United States and North Korea are refusing to budge on their demands concerning actions the other side must take first. Sorting out this tangled situation requires nothing less than a series of direct talks between the two nations.

 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top North Korean officials should start talks to find common ground.

 

Trump expressed his enthusiasm about the joint Kim-Moon declaration, saying “Very exciting!” in a pair of tweets.

 

But Trump should do more than just praise Kim’s offers. He should provide effective leadership for substantial diplomatic negotiations to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea and regional stability.

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