South Korea and the United States held working-level meetings this Friday, agreeing to exempt the ground-breaking ceremony, scheduled on Dec. 26 to connect inter-Korea railways and roads, from sanctions against North Korea. The issue of medical assistance was resolved for North Korean citizens. U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo interviewed that he hoped that a second U.S.-North Korea summit would open not long after the next year begins. It is interpreted as a message to North Korea, calling on it to be more engaged in the U.S.-North Korea dialogue that has recently been stalled.
Washington tries to exercise flexibility in their pursuit of the principle regarding North Korean issues: Sanctions are not to be mitigated or lifted before North Korea takes serious measures to implement denuclearization. Visiting U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said Friday that humanitarian assistance is not subject to sanctions, adding that Washington has no intention of reducing sanctions but is poised to come up with various ways to build mutual trust with Pyongyang. There is also a possibility of establishing a liaison office.
Since Pyongyang canceled United Front Department head Kim Yong Chol’s visit to New York in early November, it has not engaged in dialogue with Washington. North Korea should realize that it is only the current degree of flexibility by the United States that it can achieve at this moment. Although U.S. President Donald Trump may be aggressive in talking to North Korea in his efforts to make achievements within his tenure, the U.S. Congress and diplomatic experts and officials will never reduce sanctions without the implementation of denuclearization.
The Moon Jae-in administration should stay cold-headed at a moment when Washington exercises flexibility. With too much acceleration in the inter-Korean relations, a cause for the North’s denuclearization will be weakened with the South Korea-U.S. cooperation at stake. "The scheduled ground-breaking ceremony should be limited to a mere symbolic event," President Moon spoke during a press conference inside the presidential plane the next day after his meetings with President Trump in Argentina, that the ceremony signifies an embarkment of works, not a beginning of particular construction activity. The actual connection works of railways and roads between the two Koreas can begin only after North Korea implements denuclearization, leading to reductions in sanctions.
South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae declared in its self-reviewed briefing on diplomacy and security activities of the year that the denuclearization process has stepped into an irreversible stage and North Korea cannot nullify the process. However, the North has not taken any measures to prove its determination to give up on nuclear possessions, not suspending additional development activity. It is time to look squarely at the realities and take the carrot and stick approach based on the South Korea-U.S. cooperation.