What South Korea Wants from the US Right Now
As Seoul prepares for the third Moon-Kim summit, it is trying to get Washington on the same page.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in dispatched a special envoy delegation composed of the same members that met Kim Jong-un in March to discuss arrangements for an inter-Korean summit planned for Pyongyang later this month. The delegation, led by National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong, traveled to meet with Kim Jong-un on September 5 in Pyongyang, and Chung briefed the Korean public the following day.
Chung announced that the Pyongyang summit, to be held on September 18-20, would examine the outcome of the implementation of the April 27th Panmunjom Declaration, the measures to achieve “the permanent settlement of peace and common prosperity” and the “practical measures to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.” Second, Chung announced that “Kim Jong-un reconfirmed his determination to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and expressed his willingness for close cooperation not only with the South but also with the United States.” Chung also announced that the Pyongyang summit would pursue agreement on “concrete plans to establish mutual trust and prevent military clashes” and that the two Koreas would establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong in advance of the inter-Korean summit.
The special envoy delegation succeeded in pushing forward specific preparations for the Pyongyang summit and secured both Kim Jong-un’s public reiteration of a commitment to turn the Korean Peninsula “into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat” and a significant acknowledgment that the two Koreas “should further their efforts to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” directly recognizing denuclearization as a legitimate topic for inter-Korean discussion. This is good news because the United States needs South Korea’s help in pressing for North Korea’s denuclearization, but the bad news is that the formulation used by the North Korean media leaves open the possibility that North Korea has plans to press for weakening of U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea. In his statement, Chung reaffirmed South Korea’s commitment to work closely with the United States.
Inter-Korean summit preparations will now turn to building on the Panmunjom Declaration, which has shown success in implementing tangible commitments made in the declaration to develop inter-Korean steps toward “co-prosperity and unification,” including the resumption of cultural and sports exchanges, divided family reunions, and the establishment of a liaison office at Kaesong. But implementation of tension-reduction and peace-building efforts outlined in the declaration have lagged, so it is natural that the main agenda for the next inter-Korean summit should focus on implementing those sections of the Panmunjom Declaration.
The Moon administration will place the following issues on center stage as South Korea coordinates with the United States to prepare for an imminent summit in Pyongyang:
- The Moon administration anticipates that Kim Jong-un’s renewed commitment to denuclearization is sufficient to unstick U.S.-North Korean talks on the topic that stalled with the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Pyongyang. Resumption of U.S.-North Korea talks is important to the Moon administration’s view that inter-Korean relations and U.S.-North Korea relations should go together;
- South Korean summit preparations should include close cooperation with the United States on efforts to negotiate and implement practical steps to achieve inter-Korean tension-reduction and security/confidence building measures. Progress on these fronts will help create conditions that justify an exchange of an end-of-war declaration with a North Korean declaration to shutter nuclear and missile facilities. An exchange of declarations based on tangible steps toward establishment of inter-Korean peace would affirm the shared U.S. and North Korean aspiration to achieve peace and denuclearization reflected in the Singapore statement and start parallel processes to achieve those objectives;
- President Moon’s vision of building a single economic community on the Korean peninsula can only be realized through North Korean steps toward denuclearization, the achievement of which is a prerequisite for relief from existing UN and U.S. sanctions. South Korea and the United States should step up coordination to insure that South Korean requests for waivers on the application of economic sanctions on North Korea do not undermine the essential leverage necessary to keep North Korea moving toward denuclearization.