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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Editorial: Real progress needed on nuclear issue on Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had their third summit on Sept. 19 and issued the “Pyongyang Declaration.” And while frequent meetings between the leaders of the two Koreas are helpful to build mutual trust, the pair did not resolve the primary issue of denuclearization. This has been left to future negotiations between the United States and North Korea.


The joint declaration clearly states that North Korea will permanently dismantle its missile engine test facility under international expert supervision. The measure apparently reflects North Korea’s consideration of international criticism that, without international inspectors on hand, the country’s May demolition of its nuclear testing facility lacked transparency.


If North Korea did try to listen to the international community, it is a step forward. U.S. President Donald Trump is already praising the inter-Korea agreement. However, it is too early to conclude that negotiation between Washington and Pyongyang will advance substantially.


North Korea did say in the joint declaration that it intends to permanently dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear facility, but conditioned it on “corresponding steps” taken by the United States. This expression seems to reflect North Korea’s position that the Americans must first declare an end to the Korean War (1950-1953) in which U.S. troops fought the North. But Washington is demanding that denuclearization steps come first. Their positions remain wide apart.


We are concerned that the joint declaration could be construed as South Korea showing understanding for Pyongyang’s “quid pro quo” principle, pursued after all that tension the Kim regime raised in Northeast Asia by developing nuclear weapons.


To denuclearize North Korea, all relevant nuclear facilities and nuclear materials must be targeted.


Even before President Moon’s visit to Pyongyang, expectations were low that any major breakthrough would come out of the summit. He went ahead with the trip anyway, apparently because both Seoul and Pyongyang needed each other.


Meanwhile, North Korea is having trouble maintaining the full support of its traditional backstop Beijing, currently engaged in an escalating trade war with the United States over what Washington terms China’s bad actions.


In South Korea too, the Moon administration is losing public support as criticism against economic stimulus measures rises. The president apparently intended to leverage a turn-around using improved South-North relations.


The closeness of the two leaders on display during this summit is far greater than the previous two meetings between them. They have plans to climb Mt. Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula.


Political shows may be good to create an atmosphere for dialogue. What matters, though, is achieving genuine advancement on the nuclear issue.

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