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Careful, strategic approach needed to inter-Korean talks

Careful, strategic approach needed to inter-Korean talks

Posted January. 05, 2018 09:32,   

Updated January. 05, 2018 09:50


Following the opening of the communications line at the truce village of Panmunjom yesterday, North Korea called the South first again on the morning of Thursday. Asked if there was anything to report, the North said, “None. Will notify should there be anything.” While it was a simple phone to start the day, it is highly encouraging that Pyongyang is making such active gestures. The South Korean Unification Ministry told reporters that Seoul would dispatch Unification Minister Jo Myung-gyun to the negotiation table if the North decides to send forth Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification. The South Koran ministry’s intention may have been to convey an indirect call for a presence of a high-ranking official from Pyongyang, but Seoul should not rush or show too much expectation before engaging in the negotiation in earnest.

Meanwhile, Washington is constantly expressing concern over the talks between the two Koreas. “An improvement in inter-Korean relations cannot go separately with resolving North Korea's nuclear program,” said Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, on Wednesday, stressing “Improving their relations would be meaningless if it does not help address North Korea’s nuclear dilemma.” “President Moon Jae-in believes that inter-Korean dialogue cannot make progress without cooperating with the United States to respond to the nuclear threats from North Korea,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. She met with General Vincent Brooks, the commander of the United States Forces Korea, and Mark Knapper, the acting United States Ambassador to South Korea, in an apparent move to quell the concerns voiced in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday (local time).

In this regard, it is worrying that some policymakers from the ruling party of South Korea are imposing too much meaning on the inter-Korean dialogue as it could bring about discord in the international front to pressure North Korea. “Among the 45 items of cooperation agreed on by the prime ministers of the two Koreas on November 15, 2007, cooperation is achievable in roughly 20 items if assisted by U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.S. unilateral sanctions,” said Moon Jung-in, special policy advisor for unification to President Moon, in a radio show on Thursday. If ruling party members continue to treat the renewal of inter-Korean talks as a breakthrough measure to resolve the North’s nuclear crisis and make hasty demands, it would end up stalling the progress.

Kim Jong Un’s proposal for a dialogue and reopening of the inter-Korean hotline reflects the fact that the sanctions to pressure Pyongyang are working. Even if the inter-Korean talks are renewed, it is vital for the South to maintain a strong system to pressure North Korea in order to boost Seoul’s leverage for negotiation. Rash remarks can send the wrong signals to Pyongyang, allowing more leverage to the communist regime. In this regard, it is desirable that the South Korean presidential office has delegated the job of communicating the North to the Ministry of Unification while refraining from making any response about the renewal of talks between the two Koreas. It is Seoul’s responsibility to relieve the concerns of the international community by proving that inter-Korean talks do help solve Pyongyang’s nuclear conundrum.

The South Korean government should not rush; instead, it must take a careful and strategic approach to preparing for the negotiation. More importantly, Seoul must make an extra effort to consult closely with its allies including the United States to refine its messages towards Pyongyang to prevent any damage to the international sanctions against North Korea in the process of preparing for and proceeding with the talks.