South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday urged North Korea to take “bold, practical measures for denuclearisation” but also called for the US to take “reciprocal” steps of its own.
“Corresponding measures must be devised in order to facilitate North Korea’s continued denuclearisation efforts,” Moon said during his New Year address, urging the US to agree a “peace regime” and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war.
Moon said the recent visit to Beijing by the North’s leader Kim Jong-un indicated a second summit with US President Donald Trump was imminent. He also praised China for its “very positive” role in the rapprochement between Pyongyang and Washington.
“In order for the sanctions to be eased, the North needs to take substantive denuclearisation measures,” Moon said. “On the other hand, it is also necessary for the United States to take reciprocal steps in order to encourage the North to move forward.”
Moon acknowledged the agreement between Kim and Trump at their first summit in Singapore last year was “somewhat vague”. He said there was “scepticism” that Kim’s “concept of denuclearisation” is the same as that demanded by the US.
In order for the sanctions to be eased, the North needs to take substantive denuclearisation measures
The US has insisted upon North Korea’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearisation, whereas Pyongyang pursues a “phased and synchronised” and quid pro quo approach, calling for sanctions relief and an end-of-war declaration before moving toward the establishment of diplomatic ties.
“But Kim has assured many foreign leaders, including myself, Trump, Xi Jinping and Putin, that his concept is no different in any way from what the international community demands,” Moon told reporters at the Blue House in Seoul. “Kim also stated that denuclearisation and the issue of ending the war has nothing to do with the status of US troops in South Korea. Kim Jong-un understands that the issue is entirely up to the decision of South Korea and the United States.”
During his visit to Beijing this week, Kim told Xi the “relevant sides” should take North Korea’s “reasonable concerns” seriously.
Following a year of confrontation permeated by the North’s missile tests and the detonation of its most powerful nuclear device to date in September and Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric, Kim extended Moon an olive branch in the form of the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. This gesture ushered in intense diplomacy marked by three inter-Korean summits and the first US summit with the head of the “pariah” state in June in Singapore.
“I hope the two sides may reach a deal at the second summit that would lay out steps to be taken by the two sides more concretely,” Moon said.
Kim and Trump reached a vaguely worded agreement at their first summit that they will “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. The ambiguity of the agreement has resulted in an impasse at follow-up negotiations.
It is also necessary for the United States to take reciprocal steps in order to encourage the North
In his own New Year address, Kim said North Korea had declared it would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use them, and had taken “various practical measures”.
“If the US responds to our proactive, prior efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epochal measures,” Kim said.
“But if the United States does not keep the promise it made in the eyes of the world, and out of miscalculation of our people’s patience, it attempts to unilaterally enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our Republic, we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country.”
During his summit with Xi, Kim also acknowledged China’s roles in diplomatic efforts to secure peace on the Korean peninsula.
“The Korean peninsula situation has been easing since last year, and China’s important role in this process is obvious to all … the DPRK [North Korea] side highly and sincerely appreciates the Chinese efforts,” Kim said. “[North Korea would] make efforts for the second summit between DPRK and US leaders to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community.”
On Thursday, Moon also said he welcomed Kim’s offer to reopen a joint industrial estate and tours to the North’s scenic Mount Kumgang.
In 2016, South Korea’s conservative president Park Geun-hye closed the Kaesong industrial estate in response to the North’s nuclear and missile tests, provoking protests from both North and South Korean businessmen operating plants there.
Tours to Mount Kumgang by South Koreans were suspended indefinitely in 2008, after a 53-year-old South Korean tourist was shot dead after she strayed into an area deemed off-limits for military purposes.
“We welcome North Korea’s intention to resume their operation without conditions or compensations,” Moon said. “My administration will cooperate with the international community including the United States to resolve the remaining issues such as international sanctions as soon as possible.”
Conditions for reopening the Kaesong complex, where Southern companies used to employ North Korean workers, and resuming tourism to Mount Kumgang in the North “have essentially been met already”, Moon said. But many analysts say that restarting the schemes would at present violate sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
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