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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 2)

All Headlines 07:18 October 02, 2018

Flexible attitude needed
North Korea should not put cart before horse

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho has made clear his country will not denuclearize unilaterally unless the United States take corresponding measures. "Without any trust in the U.S., there will be no confidence in our national security, and under any circumstances, there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first," he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Saturday.

Ri's remarks might sound out of tune with latest efforts by Pyongyang and Washington to break the deadlock over the denuclearization talks. Both sides are eager to restart the stalled negotiations after South Korean President Moon Jae-in held his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last month.

It is not clear what Ri really meant by what he said. But he apparently tried to send a strong message to the U.S. that the Trump administration should take corresponding steps such as a formal declaration of an end to the Korean War or sanctions relief. The North has called on the U.S. to take simultaneous and reciprocal measures in return for every step Pyongyang takes for denuclearization.

Washington has refused to accept the North's demand. It has clung to its firm position that the U.S will not give any rewards to the Kim regime before it gives up its nuclear program. But Pyongyang still wants to see the declaration of the end of Korean War come first before starting the denuclearization process.

After the summit with Moon on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, President Trump reaffirmed that sanctions would continue to stay in place although he expressed his willingness to have a second summit with Kim. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Pyongyang this month to re-engage in negotiations on the North's denuclearization.

The U.S. is also likely to hold working-level talks with the North soon in Vienna, Austria, to narrow their differences over how to denuclearize and prepare for the second Trump-Kim meeting. In this context, Foreign Minister Ri was certainly trying to help the North gain the upper hand in the upcoming negotiations by disclosing his opposition to unilateral denuclearization.

Ri presented the end-of-war declaration and easing of international sanctions as a precondition for abandoning the nuclear and missile programs. Yet he did not forget to reaffirm his country's commitment to denuclearization. He also stressed the importance of the U.S. building trust with the North to solve the nuclear issue.

It is understandable that Ri's remarks were aimed at extracting security guarantees and other concessions from the U.S. But he should not put the cart before the horse in order to not derail the negotiations. To make a real breakthrough, both Pyongyang and Washington need to take a flexible attitude toward making a deal.

(END)

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