Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in said an end-of-war declaration will “mark a pivotal point of departure in creating a new order of ‘reconciliation and cooperation’ on the Korean Peninsula,” proposing that three parties of the two Koreas and the U.S., or four parties of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China come together and declare that the War on the Korean Peninsula is over. U.S. President Joe Biden also put on emphasis on “serious and sustained diplomacy to pursue the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” while adding the U.S. “seek concrete progress toward an available plan with tangible commitments.” The two leaders did not mention missile provocations by North Korea.
The speeches by the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. at the U.N. were a conciliatory message to North Korea in stark contrast to a string of provocations made by the North. Despite repeated gestures of dialogue from South Korea and the U.S., North Korea reactivated its 5-megawatt nuclear reactor and revealed moves to expand its uranium enrichment plant. It recently demonstrated its power by firing long-range cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said during the agency’s annual meeting on Monday (local time) that nuclear program is going “full steam ahead” in North Korea.
Under these circumstances, the speeches made by the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. appear to be directed toward each other rather than toward North Korea. The U.S. has been negative about declaring an end to the Korean War before North Korea makes progress towards denuclearization. North Korea has used end-of-war declaration as a means to pressure the U.S. Therefore, President Moon’s proposal can sound like he is recommending the U.S. to make concessions to North Korea. President Biden’s mention of “tangible commitments” and “concrete progress” reads as a message that what is needed is actual denuclearization instead of a non-binding declaration.
Amid stalled dialogue between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and North Korea, and repetitive provocations by the North, President Moon’s proposal of a declaration to end the Korean War sounds somewhat abrupt and hollow. President Moon must know well what consequences impatience at the end of his term brought to inter-Korean relations. In a speech marking four years in office in May, President Moon said he will try not to be impatient during his remaining term in office. Now he says he will do his best until the end of his term for co-prosperity and cooperation on the Korean Peninsula. Is the proposal to declare an end to the Korean War President Moon’s obsession or not?