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(News Focus) N.K.'s denuclearization promise raises hope, but skepticism lingers over lack of detailed steps: experts

All Headlines 22:49 April 27, 2018

By Koh Byung-joon

GOYANG, South Korea, April 27 (Yonhap) -- A "complete" denuclearization promised by North Korea on Friday is raising hopes for a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff, but its seriousness will likely be tested in its upcoming summit with the United States, experts said.

Many still give credit to the South Korean government for successfully persuading the recalcitrant North to specify the word "complete" in its denuclearization pledge, which is probably the best possible outcome, given the restrictions Seoul has faced when dealing with its northern neighbor.

On Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed a joint declaration, including their commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, following their historic summit talks at the truce village of Panmunjom.

The two also agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, reaffirmed their previous non-aggression accord and said they would open a joint liaison office in the North's border city of Kaesong, while vowing various economic cooperation efforts, all of which are intended to ease tensions and improve bilateral ties long chilled over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

Experts say that the denuclearization promise appears to be in line with the so-called complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of the North's nuclear program demanded by the U.S. and South Korea.

"Complete denuclearization can be understood as a shortened term for the CVID that President Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump have asked for," Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said.

"Chairman Kim's agreement to include the word 'complete' in the joint declaration signals that he has made up his mind to dismantle his nuclear weapons in return for such efforts intended to ease military threats and assure a security guarantee for the regime."

The deal comes ahead of North Korea's likely summit with the U.S. either in May or early June. Denuclearization will surely top the agenda during the talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, saw the deal on the North's nuclear threats as a "marked achievement," saying that it is enough to set the right tone for the North Korea-U.S. summit.

"The leaders of the two Koreas have reached a consensus on the concept of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which in and of itself is a marked achievement," he said. "It has also provided guidance for the summit between the North and the U.S."

Denuclearization was not discussed in the previous inter-Korean summits held in 2000 and 2007. Seoul apparently didn't want to get distracted from other bilateral issues due to the nuclear stalemate, and the North wanted to deal with the issue directly with the U.S.

Some say that the latest agreement on a complete denuclearization could be seen as sufficient in itself, given the inherent constraint South Korea is facing in offering the North its sought-after security guarantee or easing military threats against its regime, all of which can be guaranteed by no one other than the U.S.

"It is such a structure where the two Koreas have no choice but to stop here and details should be left to talks between the North and the U.S.," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University.

Skepticism is lingering, though, with some critics pointing out that South Korea has given too much too fast to the North in return for almost no specific promised action.

"It could be meaningful in that Chairman Kim signed a declaration which made a direct reference to denuclearization. But actually the North only agreed on a broad principle of giving up its nuclear weapons and stopped short of specifying any detailed implementation steps," Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

"I think the declaration is a well-calibrated agreement aimed at maintaining its strategic interests but at the same time keeping the momentum for its meeting with the U.S. going forward," he added.

Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank, echoed the concerns. He even called into question whether the North's pledge for complete denuclearization would be enough to convince the U.S. that the North is really serious about abandoning its nuclear program given its notorious track record of making promises and breaking them over and again.

"The North should have shown more seriousness in its pledge to convince the U.S.," he said. "There might have been undisclosed agreements other than the announced promises, but based on the declaration itself, it is not enough to lift the cloud of suspicion from the mind of the U.S."

At least President Trump seems to be positive about the outcome of the inter-Korean summit now, tweeting that "good things" are happening, although he reserved his final assessment.

"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!" he said.


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