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The U.S. View on the Inter-Korean Summit
2018.05.02  Wednesday
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Woo Jung-Yeop

The U.S. View on the Inter-Korean Summit

 

No. 2018-23 (May 2, 2018)

Woo Jung-Yeop (Acting Director, Security Strategy Studies Department)

woo@sejong.org

 

 

On April 27, President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un held the summit talks at Panmunjeom. During the summit that spanned less than a day, the two leaders presented several touching scenes. Comparing with last December when many people viewed the situation on the peninsula with the trepidation of safety during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the circumstances changed dramatically. Chairman Kim Jong-un’s appearances during the summit—such as announcing the declaration in front of the international media live and bidding farewell to President Moon after the summit banquet accompanied by the two leaders’ wives—seemed sufficient to forget the situation in the past several months when the military option and a threat of using nuclear weapons were easily uttered. Especially, the live broadcast of the two leaders taking a stroll and talking privately for 40 minutes at the footbridge made the international community astonished and filled with expectations on inter-Korean relations and denuclearization of North Korea. Even though the cameras mainly showed Kim Jong-un’s face and the occiput of President Moon who appears to have talked more, observers could read President Moon’s desperate intention to persuade Chairman Kim from his backside appearance—seizing this opportunity. After the successful inter-Korean summit, the public, with the media’s central role, has shown hopes for resuming the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It seems that the expectations run ahead, viewing additional summits as formalities confirming agreed procedures. Nevertheless, South Korea should put aside the touching sentiments and prepare for the approaching situation coldheartedly.

 

The Panmunjeom Declaration, the outcome of this summit, faced the largest criticism for the lack of clarity on denuclearization. Despite the consensus that North Korea’s denuclearization is the top agenda in the summit, the Panmunjeom Declaration puts denuclearization at a lower priorityas the fourth clause of the third article. The declaration stipulates, “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea shared the view that the measures being initiated by North Korea are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard. South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Cheong Wa Dae and the pundits who highly value the achievements of this summit emphasize that the North Korean leader inscribed the word ‘complete’ denuclearization. However, in Washington, where the experts closely watched what will the summit offer regarding denuclearization, they assess that the terms in the declaration fell short of assuring North Korea’s sincerity for denuclearization. Particularly, they point out that it lacks specific details compared to the September 19 Joint Statement in 2005, which reads, “The Six Parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. The D.P.R.K. committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.” While some refute that the gap exists between the agreement directly involving the North Korean leader and the agreement at the level of participants in the six-party talks, it brings the problem of self-contradictionthe agreement at the working level ensuing the summit will be untrustworthy until the leader confirms the agreement in the future. Obviously, given North Korea’s attitude last year which seemed unlikely to discuss denuclearization, the terms on denuclearization that Chairman Kim agreed is meaningful. Nonetheless, considering the significance of this inter-Korean summit as a harbinger of the DPRK-U.S. summit, the declaration seems deficient to relieve Washington’s suspicions on North Korea.

Against this backdrop lies Washington’s extreme distrust on Pyongyang’s return to denuclearization talks. The U.S. political sphere and academia strongly perceive that as North Korea did not comply with the previous agreements related to denuclearization and scrapped them, they did not discover any evidence to trust North Korea. It is reported that the-then State Secretary nominee Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang and met Kim Jong-un before this inter-Korean summit. In spite of this, President Trump left the possibility of not having talks with Kim Jong-un open and emphasized that he could leave the summit right away even if the summit is held. While it may be a groundwork to bolster its leverage in the forthcoming talks, it also indicates that Washington is not firmly convinced that Pyongyang will clearly take the path of denuclearization it desires in the contacts with the North Korean officials.

As the critical remarks that the terms on denuclearization in the declaration lack details began to be raised mainly from the international media, Cheong Wa Dae strived to confirm North Korea’s sincerity for denuclearization, publicizing Kim Jong-un’s change of position on several issues. However, this also seems below the level for the U.S. to carry out the negotiations smoothly, in certifying North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization.

Visiting Saudi Arabia, State Secretary Pompeo highlighted, “that nuclear deal [formally known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA] has failed to moderate the regime’s conduct in many areas, I highlighted a few, in fact, Iran has behaved worse since the deal was approved” and pointed out that “the Iran deal in its current form does not provide that assurance [Iran to never possess a nuclear weapon].” He warned that President Trump will ‘leave the deal’ when he fails to reach a fixed agreement with the European allies. President Trump is to decide whether to reinstate sanctions against Iran which were postponed due to the nuclear deal by May 12. Noting Pompeo’s comments, it is likely that the U.S. will re-impose sanctions on Iran.

In viewing such circumstances, Seoul should ensure that the DPRK-U.S. summit ends successfully, encouraging North Korea to demonstrate more concrete actions if it is genuinely committed to denuclearization and maintaining its influence in the summit.