- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2018


North and South Korea delivered a joint declaration affirming the “mutual goal” of pursuing “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula Friday, signaling the firmest commitment to date by the North’s Kim Jong-un that he may be serious about abandoning the nuclear weapons program his nation has long used to threaten America and its allies.

Mr. Kim and the South’s President Moon Jae-in also vowed to pursue a peace treaty formally ending the Korean war after a more than a 60-year stalemate. But it was the “denuclearization” statement that reverberated most deeply across the world and in Washington, where the Trump administration has demanded it as a precondition for further talks with Pyongyang.

While the stage is now set for a historic face-to-face summit later this spring between President Trump and Mr. Kim, uncertainty still abounds over the veracity of the North Korean leader’s commitment to abandon the nuclear program that Pyongyang has spent decades nefariously building in violation of U.N. sanctions and outrage from the wider international community.

Mr. Trump is under pressure from allies, including Japan, to push hard in the yet-to-be-scheduled summit for a firm timeline, perhaps as early as 2020, for Mr. Kim to come through with the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the nuclear program.

Despite the major breakthroughs on Friday, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Kim will agree to such a deadline. To the contrary, the joint declaration delivered by the North Korean leader and the South’s President Moon said broadly that the two had “agreed to gradually realize arms reduction when their military tension is removed and trust is practically established.”

On Twitter, Mr. Trump praised the summit overall as a net positive. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered a more sobering assessment, telling reporters in Belgium, where he was attending meetings at NATO headquarters, that the administration’s “objective remains unchanged.”

While Mr. Pompeo said that “we are encouraged by … [the] stated goal of complete denuclearization,” he added that “we’re studying the declaration closely to understand whether leader Kim made any new commitments.”

“We’re committed to permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Koreans’ weapons of mass destruction programs without delay,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Until then, the global maximum pressure campaign will continue.”

Foreign policy analysts around the world watched the summit closely, particularly from China, which stands as North Korea’s closest ally and economic backer even as Beijing has worked with Washington to exert sanctions pressure on Pyongyang over the past year.

“The most important question going forward remains Kim’s willingness to abandon his nuclear program,” said Paul Haenle, who heads the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

“The Trump Administration likes to believe that Kim is willing to come back to the table because of its maximum pressure campaign and its credible military options,” Mr. Haenle said in comments circulated to reporters Friday. “However, many Chinese experts believe that Kim Jong-un is coming to the table because he is confident in his rudimentary nuclear deterrence capability.”

“Is Kim really willing to abandon the nuclear program he has so heavily invested in? Or will he, as most Chinese experts suggest, be more likely try to seek an agreement not to develop beyond his current capabilities?”

They are questions that Victor Cha, the top Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington, says remained unanswered in the backdrop of the diplomatic warmth that went on between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon on Friday.

“Despite the positive atmospherics of the meeting, what is missing from this summit is any clearer indication of where Kim stands on denuclearization and whether he is willing to give his nuclear weapons up this time, or whether he is interested in temporarily ‘renting out’ a freeze in return for sanctions relief, interim energy assistance, and reduced pressure,” Mr. Cha said in a blog published by CSIS.

Others warn that the North Korean leader is buying time and knows that Washington and Seoul are up against the clock in terms of pursuing a denuclearization agreement quickly.

Mr. Moon and Mr. Trump are democratically elected leaders and analysts have noted that Mr. Kim, a dictator, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, is likely to remain on the geopolitical stage long after the U.S. and South Korean presidents have been replaced by unknown successors, who may have different postures toward Pyongyang.

Historic summit

Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim met Friday at the demilitarized zone, known as the DMZ, which has divided the Koreas since the 1953 stalemate that froze the Korean war.

After jovial handshakes and hours of talks, the two signed the Panmujom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula.

According to the South’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency, the document asserts the following:

• “[We] solemnly declared before the 80 million people of our nation and the entire world that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and a new age of peace has opened.”

• “The South and the North reaffirmed their agreement of non-aggression that they will not use any form of force against each other and agreed to strictly abide by the agreement.”

• “The South and the North agreed to gradually realize arms reduction when their military tension is removed and trust is practically established.”

• “The South and the North affirmed their mutual goal of realizing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization.”

In remarks afterward, Mr. Kim, who is just 36 years old, went so far as to say the two Korea’s will be “reunited as one country.”

The North Korean leader also held a joint press conference with Mr. Moon, a development that seemed inconceivable just months ago, when Pyongyang carried out a massive underground nuclear bomb test and a barrage of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) tests.

At the time, the North Korean leader also hurled threats at Washington, amid reports from Western intelligence that his regime had succeeded in developing a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

During Friday’s press conference, Mr. Moon said he and “Chairman Kim” had “affirmed that realizing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization is our mutual goal.”

“I clearly state that the South and the North will more closely cooperate for complete denuclearization,” the South Korean president told reporters in the televised spectacle.

Mr. Kim, according to Yonhap, said that he and Mr. Moon “will work to make sure without fail” that their agreement “will bear good results through close communication between us two so that the failure to implement North-South agreements in the past will not be repeated.”

The South Korean agency said the two also vowed to push for three-way or four-way talks involving the United States and China to replace the Korean armistice with a peace treaty.

Mr. Trump responded to Friday’s developments with cautious optimism.

“After a furious year of missile launches and Nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

“KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Mr. Trump also gave credit to Chinese Xi for helping bring North Korea to the negotiating table.

“Please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher, process!” Mr. Trump tweeted, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sally Persons contributed to this article.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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