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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 15)

All Headlines 07:10 January 15, 2019

No compromise
Ultimate goal is complete denuclearization of North

Expectations are growing that the United States and North Korea will soon hold a second summit to make a breakthrough in the stalled denuclearization talks. On Sunday, a Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, reported U.S. President Donald Trump suggested meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam in February.

The report was backed by what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: Details are being worked out for the possible second summit between Washington and Pyongyang. Some sources speculated that Kim Yong-chol, a North Korean senior official and key nuclear negotiator, will travel to New York City this week at the earliest to meet Pompeo to make preparations for the imminent summit.

We welcome the latest developments regarding the nuclear issue. It is still important for the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea to sit together to narrow their differences and agree on concrete and substantive measures. Trump and Kim should make a sincere effort to end the nuclear standoff and start a peace-making process on the Korean Peninsula.

Yet there remains skepticism that Trump might play into the hands of Kim who is more interested in sanctions relief and security guarantees than denuclearization. Skeptics have also raised a concern about Pompeo's recent remarks insinuating that the final objective of the U.S.-North Korea negotiations is the security of the American people.

"But we're moving forward in these conversations, lots of ideas about how we might continue to decrease the risk to the American people," Pompeo told Fox News on Friday. He added, "Remember … at the end that's the objective; it's the security of American people."

Some pundits in Washington and Seoul questioned whether the Trump administration might change its position on Pyongyang's denuclearization. The U.S. has so far maintained a firm stance on the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the North. It has also made clear that international sanctions will remain firmly in place until the Kim regime dismantles its nuclear arsenal.

However, Pompeo's remarks could be interpreted as narrowing its focus on scrapping the North's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which are considered to be a direct threat to the U.S. mainland. No one can rule out the possibility that the U.S. might shift its ultimate goal from complete denuclearization to the removal of the North's ICBMs.

If such a possibility turns into a reality, this means Washington cannot achieve the shared goal of final, fully verified denuclearization of the North. It also indicates that the U.S. might accept North Korea as a nuclear state. It could put South Korea, a strong U.S. ally in East Asia, at risk of nuclear threats from the North.

Therefore, the Moon Jae-in administration should not accept such a risky compromise. But no one know what President Moon will do because his government seeks to circumvent the U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang in a bid to reopen the now-closed inter-Korean industrial complex in Gaeseong and resume the suspended Mount Geumgang tourism project.

Moon and Trump might think dismantling only the North's ICBMs is a realistic method given a complex and long-drawn-out denuclearization process. But they must realize that such a thing cannot and should not be a viable solution to the nuclear issue.
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