In a virtual summit meeting with the leaders of the European Union on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said he will do his best so that Washington and Pyongyang can have a dialogue face-to-face before the November presidential elections in the U.S. The South Korean president expressed his intention to play a middleman for another U.S.-North Korea summit meeting before November 3. South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa also vowed to make an omnidirectional effort to bring the North back to the negotiation table.
Moon’s remarks to rekindle the dialogue between the U.S. and the North, which has been stalemated for about a year, appear to be far from feasible. An official from the presidential office said Washington shares such understanding and is making an effort as well. But Washington’s response is little more than a “lip-service” to prevent the issue at hand from affecting Trump’s presidential campaign. The North, which has refused to join the talks while demanding a “new solution,” is also busy weighing the options, struggling in the uncertainty over who is going to be elected as Washington’s new leader.
Of course, there is a chance, however slim it may be, that a summit meeting between the U.S. and the North could take place in the eleventh hour like October Surprise. Trump, whose approval ratings have been plummeting, needs to yield a breakthrough, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might well use a surprise event to dispel internal discord instead of sticking to summit meetings. Even if a meeting does happen, however, it would be an empty show making no progress for actual denuclearization.
Here, the South Korean government’s complacency and consistency are simply mind-boggling. Seoul must have forgotten all the scorns and humiliations it was subjected to by the North over the past month. When Pyongyang exploded the liaison office, Moon Jae-in’s special advisor downplayed the gravity of the issue, dismissing it as a “political act but not a military provocation.” Meanwhile, the foreign affairs and unification committee head of the National Assembly implied the need to cut the U.S. forces in South Korea, calling it “overcapacity.” None of those events are much surprising any more.
Some people say diplomacy is an art of possibilities, but government policies are not gambling. Counting on a spontaneous summit meeting between Washington and Pyongyang is a still more dangerous bet. Kim and Trump are targeting President Moon in identifying the reasons behind the Hanoi fiasco. For now, the status of “driver” of the Korean Peninsula is titular at best. Moon must overcome the vain obsession to step on the gas.