Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Moon in diplomatic spotlight after arranging US-N Korea summit

By Kim Hyung-jin  /  AP, SEOUL

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has always wanted to lead the diplomacy aimed at ending the North Korean nuclear crisis, even as his first year in office was overshadowed by a belligerent standoff between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Moon has had his wish granted and prepares for a meeting in late April with Kim and basks in the international glow of having engineered another upcoming summit between the US and North Korean leaders.

It does not mean the decades-long effort to thwart the North’s nuclear ambition is settled, but it is clear that Moon is having a diplomatic moment. He is popular at home and abroad he has emerged as a reliable intermediary between North Korea and the US, enemies that spent the past year threatening each other with total destruction.

Here is a look at how Moon set up the summits and the challenges that lie ahead:


Since taking office in May last year, Moon has maintained that South Korea needs to lead on the North Korea issue.

In part, it was a matter of national pride for many South Koreans, who liken their country’s geopolitical situation to “a shrimp stuck between whales” — the whales being the US and China.

Moon initially found little room to maneuver diplomatically.

The Trump administration was wary about Moon pushing for greater ties with North Korea even as Pyongyang carried out its biggest-ever nuclear test explosion and test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles.

As a result, Moon was forced to go more hard-line than he probably wanted and join Trump’s sanctions and pressure campaign against Pyongyang.

Moon ordered provocative precision-guided missile tests immediately after North Korean weapons tests, something that even his conservative predecessors did not do. He also allowed the US to install a high-tech missile defense system in the South, despite strong opposition from China.

All the while, though, he kept working to reach out to the North.

The Winter Olympics in the South’s Pyeongchang would prove to be a major opportunity.

Moon might have learned how to balance the alliance with Washington and his outreach to the North from his time as chief of staff for former liberal South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, who often had awkward ties with then-US president George W. Bush over North Korea.

“Moon realized why relations with the US suffered during the Roh government, so he would know very well how to deal with the US,” said Lee Daewoo, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, who pointed out that Moon often gives Trump credit for bringing the North to talks.


The speed with which the two summits were set up shocked many, in part because of the period of intense animosity that came before.

The two Koreas have held leaders’ talks only twice since the peninsula’s 1945 division. There has never been such contact between sitting US and North Korean leaders.

The process this time was linked to the Olympics.

In January, North and South Korea had their first dialogue in two years to discuss cooperation for the games in February. The rivals agreed to march together to open the games and to field their first joint Olympic team in women’s hockey.

Kim sent his younger sister Kim Yo-jong to the opening ceremony, making her the first member of the North’s ruling Kim family to visit South Korea since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

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