U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that progress in denuclearizing North Korea should not be outpaced by South Korea’s speeding up improving ties with North Korea, following the first South Korea-U.S. working group meeting Tuesday on coordinating bilateral efforts to denuclearize the North. “The working group is designed to ensure that we can be sure that we don't talk past each other, that we don't take an action, or the South Koreans don't take an action that the other is unaware of or hasn't had a chance to comment on, or provide their thoughts,” Pompeo. Foreign media viewed his remarks as a “warning” against Seoul’s speeding up efforts to the inter-Korean relations.
Pompeo’s remarks were tough. “We have made clear to (South Korea) that we do want to make sure that peace on the (Korean) peninsula and the denuclearization of North Korea aren't lagging behind the increase in the amount of inter-relationship between the two Koreas,” Pompeo told a news briefing following the working group meeting. “We view them as tandem, as moving forward together. We view them as important parallel processes.” Although the remarks were largely in the same vein as his previous comments, Pompeo’s open warning against Seoul’s independent arguments or actions that are not coordinated with Washington suggests that there have been significant rifts between the two sides.
There have been quite a few cases in which Seoul perplexed Washington during the process of making progress in the inter-Korean relations. The inter-Korean military agreement reached before the September inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang is a typical case. Pompeo telephoned South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to complain about the agreement. In October, the two Koreas reached an agreement on reconnecting railroads and roads despite the United States’ repeated expression of concerns. It is Washington’s belief that such things prompt Pyongyang to drag its feet at denuclearization.
Nevertheless, the South Korean government stressed after the first working group meeting that the U.S. expressed its strong support for the joint study of the inter-Korean railway project. Despite a recent expression of optimism, Seoul said there are still discussions about “technical issues” regarding the proposed exemption of inter-Korean joint railway research from international sanctions. The circumstances are more than enough to spawn speculation that although the U.S. may agree to Seoul’s position in a bigger frame, the two sides have yet to narrow differences, postponing a final announcement.
No progress has been made in the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization negotiations. They have yet to be reschedule a high-level meeting that was called off recently. We wonder if the North is dragging its feet while waiting for a U.S. response to Seoul’s call for easing sanctions on Pyongyang. The South Korean government may have its own complaints about Washington. Now that the two allies have launched an official working group, they should make one voice by synchronizing their goals, action, and speed so that they can prevent the North from attempting to drive a wedge between the allies or miscalculating the situation.