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(US-NK summit) Talk of war-ending declaration rises on eve of Trump-Kim summit

North Korea 17:13 February 26, 2019

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Yonhap) -- Prospects of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War at this week's summit are growing as the two sides are reportedly looking at the idea as part of efforts to overcome their decades-long enmity.

On Monday, South Korea's presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, fueled the talk of the political declaration, saying there is every possibility of Trump and Kim signing a two-way deal declaring an end to the war at their second summit set for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi.

The Cold War conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, thus putting the North and the U.S. technically at war. The U.S.-led U.N. Command, China and North Korea signed the ceasefire agreement.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said that the declaration only between Washington and Pyongyang can suffice, given that the U.S., China and South Korea are not adversaries anymore based on their diplomatic relations established decades ago.

The spokesman also took note of last year's inter-Korean military accord to halt all hostile acts against each other on land, air and sea, which Seoul officials believe amounts to an effective non-aggression pact.

This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

The North has long eyed such a political declaration, which is not legally binding, to end longstanding antagonism with the U.S., ensure its regime security and ultimately sign a peace treaty that some say could undercut the rationale for American troop presence on the peninsula.

In the weeks leading to the Hanoi summit, senior U.S. officials have hinted at the possibility of the declaration.

"Remember we not only discussed denuclearization, but we talked about creating security mechanisms, peace mechanisms on the Korean Peninsula," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News earlier this month. "I hope the two leaders have a chance to talk about that as well. I fully expect that they will."

Last month, Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, also hinted that Trump is open to the end-of-war declaration.

"I am absolutely convinced, and more importantly, the president of the United States is convinced, that it's time to move past 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula," he said during a speech at Stanford University. "There is no reason for this conflict to persist any longer."

Washington had been reluctant to discuss the end-of-war declaration amid worries that Pyongyang might exploit it to demand the dissolution of the U.S.-led U.N. Command, a key enforcer of the armistice, and the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea, which could lead to a weakening of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

But it has recently warmed to the idea of the declaration, as it has sought to break an impasse in working-level negotiations over Pyongyang's additional denuclearization steps in return for Washington's corresponding measures.

South Korea has also been supportive of the declaration, as it sees it as the first step of what could be a long process toward a peace treaty.

During their first summit at the truce village of Panmunjom in April last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim agreed to pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the U.S. or quadrilateral talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S. and China to make the declaration by the end of 2018, and pursue a "permanent and solid peace regime."

But the declaration plan did not materialize amid a deadlock in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

In recent months, Pyongyang has been seen focusing more on securing sanctions relief than its demand for the end-of-war declaration amid the U.S.' insistence that the North first take concrete, verifiable disarmament steps before any lifting of sanctions.

In his New Year's Day address, the North Korean leader expressed his desire to push for multilateral consultations over the issue of turning the current armistice regime into a peace regime -- rather than for the war-ending declaration.

Some speculate that Trump and Kim could make a non-aggression arrangement to help spur Pyongyang's denuclearization process.

Keen on scoring a foreign policy coup, Trump may be eager to yield fruitful results in his forthcoming showdown with Kim -- and thus willing to give ground on less challenging fronts, such as the end-of-war declaration, analysts said, noting a series of his internal and external quandaries, including a probe into Russia's alleged link to his 2016 election campaign.


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