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Inter-Korean dialogue up in the air

Posted August. 08, 2017 07:08,   

Updated August. 08, 2017 07:25


South Korean President Moon Jae-in talked with U.S. President Donald Trump on the phone for 56 minutes on Monday. The heads of state shared an understanding that North Korea’s ICBM provocations should be confronted with maximum levels of pressure and sanctions in order to make the regime give up on its nuclear and missile programs. The two men also agreed to work together closely in preparation for the North’s additional provocations. In a response, Pyongyang issued a "government statement" and retorted that the UN sanctions are a violent infringement on its autonomy, showing a willingness to use any type of last resorts and threatening to retaliate “by hundreds and thousands of times."


The phone call between the two heads of state came a day after the UN Security Council adopted a set of sanctions against North Korea with the levels of punitive intensity higher than ever. During the phone call, President Moon clearly said, “It is time for sanctions and pressure, not a dialogue.” His judgment derives from North Korea’s undeterred attempts at provocations in the face of the South’s continued emphasis on a twin track of sanctions and dialogues. President Moon also stressed that he would not condone yet another calamity of war taking place on the Korean Peninsula. It was an expression‎ of grave concern on the part of South Korea about White House National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster’s mentioning of “preventive war."


President Trump expressed his interest in President Moon’s proposal of an inter-Korean meeting wondered how the North would respond. Perhaps, it would be difficult for him to take President Moon’s proposal as the offer came right after a series of sanctions were adopted. In a response, President Moon made it clear that the main agenda of the proposed inter-Korean talks is reunion of separated families in North and South Korea and prevention of contingent conflicts, not North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Essentially, President Moon proposed to split up roles on the issues surrounding North Korea, where the U.S. and the international community lead the dialogues on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and the South takes the initiative in hashing out the issues between the two Koreas.


However, North Korea is showing no response to President Moon’s offer. On Sunday, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa met with her North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho in Manila and urged the North to quickly respond to the proposal, but Ri dismissed the offer as “devoid of sincerity." Pyongyang is letting its stance be known that there would be no improvement in inter-Korean relations without first resolving the issues between the North and the U.S.


The U.S. and South Korea pursue “cooperation as strong as an iron wall," but sometimes, they will invariably have different opinions. The difference of opinions will be even more severe when the U.S. and the North are playing hardball against each other. Tackling the differences of opinion requires mutual understanding. Given that there is a high chance that the North might stage a local provocation, inter-Korean talks may prove to be instrumental for the South in keeping the regime in check. However, resolving North Koreans issues and improving inter-Korean relations must go hand in hand. For now, it is imperative that we focus on pressuring North Korea based on close cooperation. We need to remember that if the South’s offer for a dialogue is interpreted as a conciliatory gesture, Seoul will find its weight of presence diminishing further.