President Moon Jae-in’s blitzkrieg-like meeting Saturday with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom carries significance in many ways, not least of all the relative casual spirit in which the leaders of South and North Korea could meet minus the usual formalities. The timing was particularly meaningful. It took place shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a decision to cancel his June 12 summit with Kim.
If the North Korean nuclear crisis is prolonged, South Korea will obviously be the biggest victim. Therefore, there was a definite need for Moon to revive momentum for the Trump-Kim summit. On North Korea’s part, it wanted to build momentum for the summit with Trump by delivering Kim’s message to Trump via Moon. On Moon’s part, he wanted to serve as a broker between Washington and Pyongyang so that they could reach an agreement.
In the process, Moon must follow the principle of complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling (CVID) of North Korean nuclear weapons. North Korea faces a moment of truth. It cannot resort to its signature brinkmanship or ambiguous rhetoric anymore when dealing with Trump, who abruptly cancelled the summit last week and even mentioned the possibility of decimating North Korea in the Libyan way. Even if the Trump-Kim summit takes place, the U.S. president can return to toughest-ever sanctions unless Pyongyang agrees to CVID. Trump threw the multilateral Iranian nuclear deal into the trash can simply because it was not sufficient.
Our public raised strong suspicions over whether North Korean leader Kim really agreed to the principle of CVID when he met Moon in the latest meeting. Moon evaded a direct answer to that question. Instead, he said the U.S. government’s move to have practical-level meetings with North Korea reflects Pyongyang’s determination to denuclearize. But Washington is not convinced. The Trump administration cannot confirm the sincerity of North Korea, as it sticks to “nuclear arms reduction” with strings attached, including regime security, despite Seoul’s reassurance that Pyongyang agreed to complete denuclearization.
Moon must persuade Kim to accept CVID to the level that the United States can reach the conclusion that it definitely has a will to denuclearize. Otherwise, Washington cannot dispel the suspicion that Seoul tried to dilute the issue by siding with Pyongyang. If Moon really wants to take the driver’s seat and achieve denuclearization, he must show strong teamwork with Trump.
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