South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened the National Security Council (NSC) meeting Monday and said that the second U.S.-North Korea summit was disappointing in its result but was a chance to confirm meaningful progress. Highlighting the prospect of permanently shutting down the Yongbyon facilities and partially lifting economic sanctions on the regime, the South Korean leader said that the dismantlement of the Yongbyon facilities would signal the North’s denuclearization process entering a phase of no-return. Monday’s NSC meeting was the first in nine months presided over by President Moon since the Singapore summit last June.
This reveals a wide gap in the understanding of the liberal leader and that of the United States, which was demonstrated at the Hanoi summit. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told local press Sunday that the North’s Yongbyon facilities are only part of North Korea’s nuclear capability and the U.S. side presented a “big deal” to the North at the Hanoi summit, which includes the dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) such as nuclear, chemical, and biochemical weapons and ballistic missiles, as well as extensive economic rewards. Moreover, the issue of the North’s possibly having operated other nuclear facilities in secret has already surfaced. Still, President Moon said the second Trump-Kim meeting was a success, even though Pyongyang’s calls for sanctions relief were apparently turned down by the United States. The South Korean Ministry of Unification said that it will seek talks with Washington to find ways to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resume tours to Mount Kumgang.
South Korea definitely needs to do its part to keep North Korea and the United States on track toward denuclearization, but its efforts should be based on the clear understanding of the reality and watertight coordination with the United States. Yet, Moon’s latest remarks along with comments lately made within the ruling bloc are one-sided and based on groundless optimism, causing concern that the North may misjudge the South as siding with the regime.
President Trump has made clear that complete denuclearization should include the removal of nuclear warheads, materials, and WMD, upon the realization that a vague agreement as in the Singapore summit would generate traps and loopholes. On the contrary, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seemingly still caught up in the misjudgment that he will be able to earn sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon facilities. Now that the wide difference between the two sides has become clear, vague efforts will not likely to bear fruit. Seoul, as a mediator, should persuade Pyongyang to demonstrate its sincerity and Washington to take steps to build trust for denuclearization. Unless President Moon himself accurately judges the situation for mediating efforts, neither Washington nor Pyongyang would listen to him, making a third summit even more unlikely.