The Korean Central News Agency of North Korea reported Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged opinions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special envoys to North Korea on holding a summit meeting and reached a “satisfactory agreement.” The North Korean media outlet also reported that Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s special envoys engaged in a candid conversation on guaranteeing peace and safety of the Korean Peninsula. “I am aware that the result of the dialogue with Kim Jong Un is not disappointing,” said an official from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. The special envoys returned to Korea on Tuesday afternoon and reported the result to President Moon.
North Korean media not only made failed to make a reference on denuclearization but also did not mention nuclear weapons nor the United States. They, however, implied that Kim and South Korea’s special envoys covered various subjects such as inter-Korea summit meeting, inter-Korea exchange and cooperation, as well as North Korea–U.S. dialogue and South Korea–U.S. joint military exercises by using expressions such as “guaranteeing peace and safety of the Korean Peninsula.” In particular, it has been said that Kim Jong Un made “programmatic order” to the North’s United Front Department so as to take working level measures regarding the inter-Korea summit meeting. As much as President Moon, in response to the invitation by Pyeongyang, maintained a position to “clinch the plan by setting necessary conditions,” it is highly likely that there was an agreement on overall framework of the conditions, path, and contents of the summit. It is anticipated that the two Koreas will be able to bear abundant fruit with regard to the inter-Korean relationship.
Kim Jong Un’s hospitality towards South Korea’s special envoys demonstrated his willingness to speed up holding a summit meeting as part of North Korean policy on making a great change in inter-Korean relationship that he made clear in his New Year’s address. The meeting and welcome dinner for the special envoys was unprecedentedly held at the main building of the Korean Workers’ Party for 4 hours and twelve minutes. Kim Jong Un was accompanied by his sister Kim Yo Jong and his wife Ri Sol Ju, creating a friendly atmosphere. This was a struggle to break away from international isolation for developing nuclear weapons through a progress in inter-Korean relationship, not least the hermit nation’s judgement to at least hold on to the Moon Jae-in administration to improve its future international relations.
North Korea’s report, however, regarding nuclear issues that the world has been focusing on cannot be more ambiguous. A candid conversation on the peace and safety of the Korean Peninsula, which is presumed to be a solution to the North’s nuclear issue, is all there was. Ordinarily, a “candid conversation” is a mere diplomatic expression to demonstrate that they faced different opinions. The state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated on Tuesday morning when South Korea’s special envoys were still in Pyongyang, “Nuclear power is the sword of justice and we will grip nuclear weapons even more.” Furthermore, in relation to alleviating military tensions between the two Koreas, which was under in-depth discussion, it is highly probable that Kim Jong Un requested to suspend South Korea–U.S. joint military exercises.
It would be fortunate if South Korea’s special envoys to North Korea was successful in suggesting a gradual nuclear solution from nuclear freeze to dismantlement, and have Kim Jong Un indicate a prospective stance on a denuclearization dialogue with the United States. The North Korean leader would not have expressed his will on denuclearization openly. It is possible that he would have agreed to initial actions for a dialogue such as temporary suspension of nuclear and missile experiment under the condition of halting South Korea–U.S. joint military exercises. Nevertheless, without a fundamental determination on denuclearization by Kim Jong Un, it is no different from the previous solutions that ended up in a failure.
The U.S. administration is taking a cautious attitude by reiterating “close cooperation between South Korea and the United States” regarding the special envoys’ visit to North Korea. The U.S. Department of State also expressed “cautious optimism.” The Trump administration, however, concluded that the murder of Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, was a deed by North Korea using a deadly poisonous nerve agent VX and issued additional sanctions. This is a message towards North Korea that even if North Korea-U.S. dialogue is initiated, there shall be no compromise in denuclearization, not to mention continuous sanctions and oppression.
National Security Office Chief Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service chief Seo Hoon of South Korea will visit Washington and explain the result to U.S. President Donald Trump on their visit to North Korea as early as Thursday. The path of the North Korea-U.S. relation, either a dialogue or confrontation, will be determined depending on how President Trump assesses the result of the special envoys’ encounter with Kim Jong Un. A couple of more diplomatic arbitration may be necessary between North Korea and the United States. President Trump is famous for being a picky negotiator with high demands. It would be impossible to gain Mr. Trump’s consent or agreement in the absence of Kim Jong Un’s clear will for denuclearization.
An agreement between South Korea and North Korea is nothing but a provisional future. A progress in the inter-Korean relationship cannot be anticipated without a positive response from the United States. Rather, speeding up the inter-Korean relationship without the United States can easily cause misunderstanding and conflict between South Korea and the United States. The relationship of the two Koreas is inseparable from the North Korea–U.S. relationship. The simultaneous development of the relationship among the three states –South Korea, North Korea and the United States– is only possible when North Korea and the United States start a talk and initiate a process of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.