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Global Economy

Moon faces toughest challenge yet in third summit with Kim

The issue of declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War will be high on the agenda in Pyongyang. The fighting stopped with an armistice that has left the peninsula technically at war.

Both Koreas are calling for a declaration by the end of the year, but the U.S. wants to see more concrete steps toward denuclearization first, and some analysts say a declaration could put pressure on the U.S. to withdraw its troops from South Korea.

“With the declaration, North Korea’s trying to put itself on equal footing with the United States so it could turn the process into a bilateral arms reduction negotiation between two nuclear states,” Kim, the security expert, said. “The process can’t have anything to do with a plan to denuclearize unilaterally.”

Chung Eui-yong, Moon’s national security adviser, met Kim in Pyongyang earlier this month, and said the North Korean leader told him that an end-of-war declaration would not weaken the U.S.-South Korea alliance or lead to a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Chung also said Kim wishes to realize denuclearization before the end of Trump’s first term.

Chung conveyed similarly promising comments from Kim after a previous visit in March, when South Korean officials shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to set up the Trump-Kim meeting.

He said then that Kim had said the North would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if it received a credible security guarantee and that the North Korean leader understood that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises must continue. The comments were seen as an important departure from North Korea’s previous stance.

But Kim has never made similar comments publicly or in writing.

If Moon can’t convince Kim to express a commitment to concrete denuclearization steps, he will at least have to get Kim to put the things Chung has said he was told in a written agreement, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

That would provide a starting point for establishing a timeline for denuclearization, reduce concerns over North Korea’s intent and make it clearer that the North bears the greater responsibility in the efforts to resolve the nuclear crisis, Cha said.

“The Panmunjom Declaration after the first summit only provided a time limit for the end-of-war declaration, which was the end of 2018; on denuclearization, the statement just said the Koreas would jointly work toward it,” Cha said. “A failure to get something more specific out of Kim could cause the diplomatic efforts to lose much of their force.”


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