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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 15)

All News 07:03 January 15, 2020

Out of touch with reality
New strategy needed to meet mounting challenges

Having optimism is oftentimes better than having pessimism. Yet blind optimism could be a recipe for failure. The same is true of the stalled nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. Having a balanced view is crucial to breaking the deadlock and keeping the ball rolling.

Now the question is whether President Moon Jae-in and his government are making an objective and correct assessment of the deteriorating situation. In his New Year's press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday, Moon seemed to put forward wishful thinking without having a sense of reality.

He said it was premature to be gloomy about the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. He certainly meant that it is not the time to give up on hope for a breakthrough in the impasse and an eventual success in denuclearizing the North.

"I think we are not at the stage for now to be pessimistic about South-North dialogue and North Korea-U.S. dialogue, although it is not a time to be optimistic." He described U.S. President Donald Trump's letter, which was sent to Chairman Kim Jong-un last week to congratulate him on his Jan. 8 birthday, as "very positive" and a "good idea."

Moon stressed relations between Kim and Trump which he apparently believes can lead to a resumption of dialogue. This, however, is a far cry from the North Korean view that personal ties between the two leaders are insufficient to put the stalemated talks back on track.

Former North Korean chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan said Saturday that it would be "absentminded" to anticipate the North's return to dialogue because of the leaders' friendly relations. Kim, now a foreign ministry adviser, made it clear that his country would not resume negotiations unless the U.S. fully accepts its demands for sanctions relief and security guarantees.

The North has suspended talks with the U.S. although it has yet to close all the dialogue channels. It has already threatened to take a "new path." Kim Jong-un even mentioned a "new strategic weapon," hinting at retracting his self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing.

Adviser Kim also scoffed at President Moon's efforts to act as a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang. He derided Cheong Wa Dae for announcing the delivery of the congratulatory birthday message to Kim on behalf of Trump.

Moon, however, has kept waving an olive branch to the North. During the press conference, he floated the idea of promoting inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges, including joint projects in border areas and individual tours to the North by South Koreans. He also expressed hope for the formation of a single team for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics.

Moon should be careful not to be out of touch with reality. We don't want to tell him to change his policy of active engagement with North Korea. Instead, we call on him to set a new strategy to better cope with mounting challenges arising from the North's hardened stance.

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