Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Moon Jae-in shines as he drives diplomacy with Pyongyang

By Kim Tong-hyung  /  AP, SEOUL

Seoul’s economic inducements resulted in a temporary rapprochement, and two summits with the North in 2000 and 2007 that involved then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Critics say it gave the North a lifeline as it pursued its nuclear dreams.

Moon has said the decade of hardline conservative policies he ended when elected last year did nothing to stop Pyongyang’s weapons advancements.

He has balanced his criticism of the North’s nuclear program with hints of ambitious economic promises in exchange for a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

While Moon is in a significantly tougher spot than his liberal predecessors, who governed when the North’s nuclear threat was nascent, he also has more time — four more years in his term — and political space to assert his voice.

Kim Dae-jung’s engagement with North Korea was often a source of discord with the hardline administration of then-US president George W. Bush. Disagreements between Washington and Seoul continued during Roh’s government, and the Koreas were never able to build on Roh’s last-minute summit with Kim Jong-il in 2007.

For all their differences in personality, Moon has been able to maintain a coordinated approach with Trump on North Korea. Moon has so far stayed firm on sanctions, and he offered vocal support to Trump’s pressure campaign last year during the North’s weapons tests.

While reaching out to the North in past months, Moon has credited Trump at every step, even suggesting that he take the Nobel Peace Prize if there is peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“It’s not a bad way to approach the North — Moon playing the good cop to Trump’s bad cop,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.


There are doubts about whether Kim Jong-un will ever agree to fully relinquish the nukes he likely sees as his only guarantee of survival.

Moon has maintained that Kim Jong-un is genuinely interested in dealing away his nuclear weapons in return for economic benefits.

However, North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of “denuclearization” that bears no resemblance to the US definition. The North vows to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the South and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.

Moon might face credibility problems if it becomes clear that Kim Jong-un will not give up his nukes easily. Seoul could also be pushed aside if Washington chooses to deal more directly with China, the North’s only major ally and economic lifeline.

Moon has been upstaged by separate summits between Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), which were seen as strengthening the positions of both countries ahead of the Kim-Trump talks.

The focus might now shift from Moon to Kim Jong-un, who some believe might want to drag out negotiations until Trump is replaced by a US president seen as less willing to ponder the use of military force against the North at the risk of triggering war.

Another scenario has Kim Jong-un seeking a deal where he gives away his ICBMs, but retains some of his shorter-range arsenal in return for a reduced US military presence in the South. This could satisfy Trump, but undermine the alliance between Washington and Seoul.

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