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S. Korea- U.S. Summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump held a bilateral summit, the fourth of its kind, in Washington on Tuesday, local time. The summit drew special attention, as it came at a time when North Korea was showing a hardline stance ahead of its planned summit with the U.S. on June 12. Attention was paid to whether the South Korean president would continue to play a mediating role between the North and the U.S. and strengthen the momentum for their denuclearization negotiations amid Washington’s concerns over its summit with Pyongyang. Here is Professor Park Won-gon, international relations professor at Handong Global University, to examine the latest South Korea-U.S. summit.

The summit basically consisted of one-point, working-level talks, which minimized the protocol and focused on only a few important topics. It was timely and appropriate for South Korea and the U.S. to hold a summit, as bilateral cooperation has become increasingly important since North Korea shifted to a confrontational attitude on May 16. While denuclearization negotiations will be held between North Korea and the U.S., the South Korean government has remained unchanged in its position that the issue should be resolved through dialogue. The U.S. has confirmed North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization through various channels, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s two North Korea visits. During their summit, South Korea and the U.S. probably confirmed and compared what South Korea has learned about North Korea and what the U.S. has discussed with the North.

At the summit, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to continue to closely cooperate for a successful summit between North Korea and the U.S. President Moon stressed that there was no need to doubt Pyongyang’s willingness to hold a summit with the U.S. He made the remarks in an apparent move to dismiss concerns over the growing uncertainty about the North Korea-U.S. summit. In response, President Trump presented the “Trump model” characterized by the swift solution of the North Korean nuclear problem. Let’s hear again from Professor Park.

North Korea has even threatened to cancel the summit with the U.S. But Trump showed a forward-looking attitude on May 18, saying that the U.S. will not apply the “Libyan model” of denuclearization to North Korea and will guarantee the security of the communist regime. Pyongyang is vehemently opposed to the Libyan-style solution and it places the most importance on regime security. These issues were once again discussed at the South Korea-U.S. summit. I think the U.S. has answered North Korea’s questions in some way.

The Libyan model calls for denuclearization first and compensation later, and North Korea has accused it of unilaterally forcing nuclear abandonment. As an alternative, the “Trump model” takes the form of a package deal in a broad sense but seeks to exchange nuclear dismantlement with compensation in the shortest period of time possible. It seems the plan is more flexible than the previous solution. But Trump said that the talks could be postponed if conditions are not met. It is the first time that Trump mentioned the possibility of delaying or cancelling the North Korea-U.S. summit. Professor Park tells us more.

What Trump meant was that the U.S. may not hold talks with North Korea if the U.S. conditions aren’t met. The conditions here refer to North Korea’s clear expression of its commitment to denuclearization and the clarification of time for denuclearization. If North Korea doesn’t accept these minimum conditions demanded by the U.S., Washington will find it difficult to hold talks with the North. Trump’s remarks are also interpreted as his intention to boost his negotiating power. He has always described himself as a master of negotiation. It seems North Korea has seized the initiative since May 16, and Trump may have made the strong remarks to enhance his negotiating power again and therefore achieve North Korea’s denuclearization in a way the U.S. wants.

Trump mentioned the possibility of a setback in the North Korea-U.S. summit to demonstrate Washington’s previous principle of the complete denuclearization of North Korea. But he also said that the U.S. would guarantee the security and prosperity of the North Korean regime if Pyongyang completely denuclearizes itself. The ball is now in North Korea’s court.

North Korea has constantly talked about a “phased and synchronized” approach to denuclearization, in contrast to a swift package deal advocated by the U.S. Pyongyang is unlikely to change its stance for now. But if North Korea is committed to denuclearization, and if South Korea, the U.S. and the international community provide a corresponding security guarantee to the North, Pyongyang may accept the package deal. Even under the package deal, though, some “phased and synchronized” measures should be taken. I think it is highly likely that the North Korea-U.S. summit will take place. Success or failure of the talks depends on how actively and sincerely the two sides will engage in negotiations and whether they reach an agreement in the remaining three weeks.

On Wednesday, right after the South Korea-U.S. summit ended, North Korea accepted the list of South Korean journalists to cover the dismantlement of its main nuclear test site. The North invited journalists from four countries, including South Korea, to the ceremony but it had initially refused to accept the South Korean list. The South Korea-U.S. summit apparently influenced North Korea’s last-minute about-face. Of course, it’s too early to be optimistic. Close contact and dialogue with North Korea based on trust is essential for a successful summit between North Korea and the U.S. To this end, President Moon is expected to mediate the conflict between the two nations in earnest. There are about 20 days left before the planned North Korea-U.S. summit. Diplomatic efforts during the period will likely determine the fate of the Korean Peninsula.

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