Tue, Feb 26, 2019 - Page 9 News List

US-Pyongyang summit crucial for South’s Moon

By Kim Tong-hyung  /  AP, SEOUL

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has staked his legacy on the stunning diplomatic progress he has forged with North Korea, as well as the behind-the-scenes orchestration of the US-North Korean summits.

However, following months of stalemate on North Korea nuclear talks, Moon’s presidency faces a crucial moment, with US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet for the second time tomorrow and on Thursday.

Moon, a liberal who took office in May 2017, is desperate for a breakthrough so he can continue engagement with the North that has driven the three-way diplomacy, but is now held back by tough US-led sanctions against Pyongyang. There is hope among Moon’s supporters that progress by Trump and Kim on the nuclear issue will allow the partial sanctions relief needed for the Koreas to resume joint economic projects that were shelved during previous standoffs.

However, Moon might be disappointed in his push for quick sanctions relief.

It remains unclear whether Kim is ready to deal away his nuclear arms and Washington still sees economic pressure as its best form of leverage over Pyongyang. If the nuclear negotiations break down, Moon could face a serious political dilemma over whether to continue to engage with the North or join another US-led pressure campaign.

Here is a look at the stakes for Moon as Trump and Kim prepare to meet in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi:

Moon, who has preached that Seoul should be in the driver’s seat when dealing with Pyongyang, has prioritized improving bilateral relations with North Korea, which he says would help drive nuclear progress between Washington and Pyongyang.

A son of North Korean war refugees, Moon has vowed to build on the legacies of former South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Under their “Sunshine policy,” which Moon had a hand in building as Roh’s chief of staff, economic inducements from Seoul resulted in temporary rapprochement and summits in 2000 and 2007 with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s late father.

In a phone conversation with Trump on Tuesday, Moon said that the South was ready to proceed with inter-Korean economic projects to induce further nuclear disarmament steps from Kim Jong-un.

However, Moon is in a tougher spot than his liberal predecessors, who governed when the North’s nuclear threat was nascent. Kim Jong-un’s arsenal now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching the US mainland.

The Trump-Kim meeting in Hanoi could be pivotal in determining whether things head toward a stable, nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, or the cementing of the North as a nuclear power. With crucial parliamentary elections coming next year, Moon cannot afford a major setback in inter-Korean relations, his strongest issue.

Moon continues to enjoy a good level of public support for his rapprochement with North Korea, but recent polls show that there is also growing skepticism among South Koreans, especially among older people, over whether Kim will ever give up his nuclear arms.

“As long as the Kim Jong-un regime is there, North Korea will never abandon its nuclear weapons, even if we pay them hundreds of billions of dollars or trillions of dollars,” said Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 2016.

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