South Korean President Moon Jae-in will make a two-day trip to Washington D.C. on April 10 for a bilateral summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. “The two leaders plan to strengthen bilateral relations and have in-depth talks on establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization of North Korea,” said Cheong Wa Dae on Friday. Next month’s summit in Washington marks the seventh bilateral summit between the two leaders following the meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina.
The summit is being held amid escalated tensions between the U.S. and North Korea after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit on February 28. North Korea has warned that it might abandon the negotiations and the U.S. has responded with strengthened sanctions. It seems that President Moon wants to play the mediator role and bring the two countries back to the negotiating table. Building on the results, President Moon might send special envoy to North Korea and have another inter-Korean summit. Cheong Wa Dae said yesterday that the two Koreas are yet to have discussions on inter-Korean summit but did not hide its expectations about an early summit.
But the main focus of the Seoul-Washington summit should be on solidifying their cooperation on dealing with North Korea, which has been weakened after the collapse of the Hanoi summit. The U.S. has been maintaining its “denuclearization first” stance and urging nations to fully implement sanctions against North Korea, while South Korea has shown its willingness to resume inter-Korean economic projects, such as Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang Tour, which cannot be done without an easing of sanctions. No wonder Washington is complaining about South Korea’s attitude saying that “it is siding with North Korea, not with its ally, on the pretext of serving as a mediator.”
Washington wants Seoul to persuade North Korea instead of playing the mediator role. The reason why the White House referred the Seoul-Washington alliance to “linchpin” is to stress the importance of having one voice when dealing with North Korea. In particular, North Korea will be holding the Supreme People’s Assembly on April 11, the day of the bilateral summit. North Korea warned that the leadership would announce its decision sooner or later. Any hint of discordance between Seoul and Washington could lead to misjudgment by North Korea.
President Trump asked President Moon to serve as the “chief negotiator” in last September. Cheong Wa Dae explained that what Trump meant was to be the “chief negotiator between North Korea and the U.S.” But what Trump really might have meant was to be the “chief negotiator on behalf of the U.S.” Through his visit to Washington, President Moon should build a trusting relationship with President Trump and play the chief negotiator role on behalf of Seoul-Washington alliance to lead North Korea toward the path of denuclearization.