- - Monday, May 15, 2017


After nine years of a conservative government, the South Korean people have elected a progressive Democratic Party president, Moon Jae-in. There is significant media speculation about President Moon, the former chief of staff of former President Roh Moo-hyun, and whether he will pursue another Sunshine Policy of reconciliation with North Korea. This seems likely, given his pre-election pronouncement about the need for a new approach to resolving issues with North Korea and his questioning the advisability of deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss many of these issues with officials and friends in South Korea, as part of a Washington Times fact-finding delegation that visited Seoul in February. I’m now writing this op-ed, after five days of fact-finding meetings in Tokyo with senior government officials and friends, again sponsored by The Washington Times.

Some of the insights from these visits and meeting weren’t too surprising. In both Japan and South Korea, there is considerable concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, and the progress the nation has made over the past few years. There was definite concern about the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, and his stated determination to retain nuclear weapons and his stated conviction not to return to the Six Party Talks process that produced the September 2005 Joint Statement.

That statement committed North Korea to comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization in return for security assurances, a peace treaty, economic development assistance and, ultimately, the provision of civilian light-water reactors when North Korea returned to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. What I also heard was the need for the United States to remain very active in resolving the nuclear issue with North Korea and ensuring that the U.S. was committed to extended security assurances for Japan and South Korea.

The election of Moon Jae-in is an opportunity for the United States and South Korea to communicate to North Korea and the world that there is no space between our two countries in regard to a strategy to resolve the myriad issues with North Korea. President Trump has spoken with President Moon and invited him to visit the United States. Indeed, a visit to Washington by Mr. Moon, preferably his first foreign visit, will permit both presidents to candidly discuss a unified approach to resolving the nuclear and missile issues with North Korea.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon both want a peaceful resolution of issues with North Korea. Given that common objective, close collaboration between the two countries is important. Equally important will be close collaboration with Japan and a united, trilateral approach to resolving issues with North Korea. While a peaceful resolution is our common objective, reality dictates that enhanced missile defense is a priority, especially now, given the exponential increase of missile launches from North Korea and the two nuclear tests conducted since Kim Jong-un assumed power in December 2011. Thus, the deployment of THAAD in South Korea should proceed expeditiously, dictated by North Korea’s recent provocative behavior.

After 25 years of failed negotiations with North Korea, during which time North Korea has exponentially increased its nuclear and missile capabilities, it is critical that South Korea, Japan and the United States work in concert to defend our respective countries, while we seek a peaceful, negotiated resolution to issues with North Korea.

A new Moon Jae-in government in South Korea could be the catalyst for a renewed effort to get North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs and return to denuclearization negotiations that would enhance regional security and bring North Korea into the family of nations committed to peace and prosperity in North Korea and the region. However, while North Korea continues to launch missiles, with greater range and capabilities, and continues to conduct larger and more sophisticated nuclear tests, it’s important that the United States, working closely with South Korea and Japan, and enlisting the support of China and Russia, enhance regional missile defense capabilities and, working with the United Nations Security Council, impose additional sanctions on North Korea, in response to their provocative behavior.

Ideally, enhanced sanctions will not be necessary if Pyongyang realizes that the new governments in Washington and Seoul, working with the governments in Japan, China and Russia, are all committed to a peaceful resolution to nuclear-related issues with North Korea.

President Moon Jae-in, working closely with the United States and Japan, is now positioned to help move North Korea in this direction.

•  Joseph R. DeTrani is the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. The views are the author’s and not any government agency or department.

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